Friday, June 10, 2016

New Deal Sanitation: Clean Drinking Water

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Clean drinking water--and clean water for bathing, showering, and brushing teeth--was very important to New Deal policymakers; far more important than it is to modern policymakers, most of whom are more concerned with securing tax breaks and business favors for the ultra-wealthy than with improving American infrastructure (which is why so many children are drinking leaded water from a delivery system that the American Society of Civil Engineers graded a "D"). 

In 1939, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and his New Deal Public Works Administration (PWA), wrote: "Water is life. Apparently this fundamental fact must be learned on the battlefront of experience again and again. When this lesson is forgotten, even for a moment, the consequences are immediate and disastrous" (America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939, p. 169). This is why Ickes approved well over 2,000 PWA-financed waterworks projects across the nation. We are still using many of these projects today, significantly past their intended lifespans.

The work-relief projects of the New Deal also focused on improving our water infrastructure. For example, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, constructed 276 water treatment plants, 4,000 water wells, 3,000 water storage tanks and reservoirs, and much more (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132).

We could do the same today, were it not for the control of our government by the super-wealthy. Their interests and our interests are not the same. While they seek yachts, mansions, private islands, lavish vacations, and gold bathtubs for their children to soak and gloat in, the rest of us are desperately seeking the essentials, for example, job stability, affordable housing, retirement security, and clean drinking water. In Bernie Sanders, we had the opportunity to begin the process of taking back our government from the selfish moneyed interests. We squandered that opportunity. So, profit and greed will continue to reign supreme; and infrastructure will continue to crumble. Add a Clinton or Trump presidency to a Congress controlled by conservatives (who are themselves controlled by millionaires and billionaires) and no other outcome is possible.

When you think about it, we have not only lost our New Deal concern for infrastructure, we have lost our New Deal willpower altogether.

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