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The State of the Union on Clean Tap Water

Some startling numbers, pulled from recent Pacific Standard stories.

By Morgan Baskin


A sign tells Flint, Michigan, residents that boiling water doesn’t remove lead. (Photo: Sarah Rice/Getty Images)

Since last World Water Day, Pacific Standard has published many dozens of stories about the stuff, from articles about droughts and floods to those cataloguing the country’s crumbling infrastructure and innovative global clean-drinking solutions. (We even published a water issue last summer.)

Instead of making you sort through that extensive archive, we’ve culled some of the more telling data from the Pacific Standard team’s recent reporting, below, to help you make sense of it all.

  • 1.4: The number of liters of water required to make one liter of bottled water.
  • 12: The percent of American residents who can’t afford clean drinking water in their homes. That number isn’t going down any time soon: A study in PLoS One predicts that, if water prices rise at expected levels over the next five years, the percent of people who can’t afford their water bills could jump to nearly 36 percent.
  • 60: The percent by which salt levels in the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf have increased in recent years, a result of aggressive waste-dumping by local desalination plants. That change has endangered local fish populations and marine habitats.
  • 69: The percent increase needed in food production to close the gap between “current calories available and future calories needed.” Seventy percent of water withdrawals globally are already used for agriculture. Researchers predict that the mounting pressure of an increasing global population will force farmers to use more water in the production of food to satisfy these demands, outstripping supply.
  • 100: The number of liters of water required to make a single glass of wine.
  • 103: The number of people who have been deemed “water sommeliers” by the German Mineral Water Association.
  • 315: The number of liters of water required to produce one pound of apples.
  • 700: The factor by which majority-black residents in Wake County, North Carolina, are more likely to drink kitchen tap water that contains E. coli bacteria, as compared to their white neighbors whose water supplies come from municipal, instead of septic, tanks.
  • 1,500: The number of desalination plants located near and around the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf.
  • 400,000,000: The estimated long-term social costs of the lead-laced tap water in Flint, Michigan. A 2009 paper published by Peter Muennig shows that lead poisoning can lead to “lower educational attainment, reduced lifetime earnings, increased crime, and higher medical bills”; all of those costs can top $50,000 per child infected. Multiply that by the estimated 8,000 Flint children poisoned by their water supply, and you’ve got a staggering financial burden.
  • 600,000,000: A conservative estimate of the number of people globally who don’t have access to clean drinking water.