Disparities in Water Quality in Indian Country
Author: Otakuye Conroy-Ben and Rain Richard,Issue #163
Tribal Nations in the United States are afflicted by a number of disparities including health, socioeconomics, education, and contaminant exposure to name a few. To understand drinking water quality disparities, we analyzed Safe Drinking Water Act violations in Indian Country found in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) and compared them to violations in non-tribal areas of the same state for the time period 2014 – 2017. The violations assessed were total point accumulations per year per 1,000 customers, health-based maximum contaminant limit (MCL), reporting and monitoring, and public notice for each state reporting tribal data. Violation point disparities were evident, as tribal facilities acquired nearly six times the points of the national average. In some states, health-based tribal water quality was better than in non-tribal communities, however Arizona, Iowa, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming had MCL violations affecting a greater percentage of tribal populations than non-tribal. Nation-wide, monitoring and reporting violations affected tribal communities at nearly twice the rate of non-tribal customers. Public notice reporting was high and comparable for both tribal and non-tribal
facilities. Finally, a comparison of small drinking water facilities, under which ~97% of the surveyed tribal drinking water falls, confirmed state-wide disparities. Solutions for the apparent disparities in Indian Country and on non-tribal lands may be as simple as rectifying monitoring and reporting violations, though this correction will not shift the overall water quality difference. Addressing MCL and treatment violations is the next step to reduce the disparity.
Keywords: drinking water quality, tribal water quality, EPA ECHO, disparity