For immediate release: February 6, 2023
AUSTIN, Texas – A new Texas Water Trade analysis shows that Black and Hispanic populations living in border communities, as well as Metro Houston and the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, are broadly dissatisfied with the quality of their drinking water. As a result, most are relying on bottled water as their primary drinking water source.
Among 650 households surveyed last fall, the highest levels of concern were in rural unincorporated colonias in El Paso County and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), which have substandard public water systems or no water infrastructure at all. More than three-quarters of the respondents in these communities believe their drinking water is unsafe and most are traveling more than 10 miles to buy bottled water or other water alternatives.
“The survey results make clear that too many Texas households, most of them people of color, are still being left behind on everyday access to safe and affordable drinking water,” said Sharlene Leurig, Chief Executive Officer of Texas Water Trade, a nonprofit group that commissioned the survey in collaboration with the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP).“Given the state’s extraordinary financial resources, we’ve got to do better.”
Leurig added, “While we’ve long known that millions of Texans do not have access to clean, affordable water, these survey results will help us pinpoint which communities and neighborhoods are facing the biggest challenges.”
The survey was funded as part of a grant from Texas-based Lyda Hill Philanthropies to help Texas Water Trade launch a water service that will provide clean, affordable drinking water to underserved communities in Texas. The service, Vida Water, plans to deploy and maintain onsite water treatment technologies for households and schools using a subscription payment system.
Texas Water Trade will be hosting a webinar on the survey results and Vida Water’s service plans from 10 to 11 am CST on February 16. For information and registration details, visit here.
UTEP trained and coordinated local community health organizations which surveyed low-income households in four underserved areas of Texas, two-thirds of which were connected to public water systems, the rest having no water infrastructure, thus forcing them to rely on hauled water that is stored in large tanks for days or weeks before it is used. This practice creates a serious risk of water borne illnesses, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
In the Rio Grande Valley alone, the state estimates that more than 100,000 people, many of them in colonias, lack basic water services.
Of those surveyed, 61 percent responded that they did not think their water was safe to drink, with the biggest concerns being microbes (74 percent), chemicals (73 percent) and lead (53 percent). Citing the better taste, smell and quality, more than half (57 percent) of the households reported that they relied on bottled water as their primary source of drinking water, with roughly half of them traveling more than 10 miles to buy it once or twice a week.
Survey respondents – 45 percent of whom reported earning less than $25,000 a year – reported spending $47 a month on average to secure water for their households. Bottled water purchases were reported as $37 a month on average. That represents nearly 2% of household annual income for bottled water. Monthly spending on water swelled to as high as $250 a month for households using both trucked and bottled water, which is 12% of annual income for a household earning $25,000 a year. These expenditures do not include transportation costs.
Respondents in the border communities voiced the highest concerns, with 77 percent of the LRGV households saying they “worry” about the safety of their water and 90 percent of the El Paso colonias households, which rely on hauled water, expressing concern about microbes.
Jim Drees, CEO of Vida Water, said the new survey results will help guide where Vida Water starts providing point-of-use water filtration service later this year.
“It’s pretty clear that the border communities, especially colonias, are facing some of the biggest challenges in terms of public health and the high costs of buying bottled water,” he said. “Our upcoming launch will prioritize these underserved communities.”
Respondents from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex had the lowest concerns about the safety of the water, with 28 percent voicing such fears. Yet even in DFW, homes and schools served by public water utilities face significant costs to mitigate lead contamination in their drinking water. Overall, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population gets its water from utilities that have violated safe drinking water standards. Water systems in US counties that are 25 percent or more Latino are violating drinking water contamination rules at twice the rate of those in the rest of the country, according to a review of five years of EPA data.
Contact: Peyton Fleming, Texas Water Trade