As part of its newly released infrastructure plan, the Trump administration would change the way permits are issued for dumping "dredged or fill material" into American waterways.
Couched in terms of "protecting clean water with greater efficiency", the plan would rescind the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to deny building permits that adversely affect waterways and would also cut back on environmental reviews.
The Trump administration said that allowing the US Army Corps of Engineers to push more projects forward without input from the EPA would help "eliminate duplication of work and streamline permit decisions."
But that deregulation could quite literally dump a huge additional burden of waste onto municipal water systems around the US. Water experts are worried that the change could make it easier for local water sources to get contaminated with runoff or pollution from new highways, dams, and pipelines. And some areas of the country are already ill-prepared to deliver clean drinking water, new research suggests.
Also released Monday is a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which shows that certain areas of the United States already struggle to supply clean drinking water to residents.
Roughly 16 million Americans are exposed to stomach bugs from drinking water coming out of their faucets each year. Some also get exposed to cancer and neurological disorders...
That's especially true in rural pockets of the country, notably some spots in Texas, Idaho, and Oklahoma, where EPA drinking-water standards have been violated year after year.
"Generally, the country's utilities deliver high-quality water, but every year, about 7% to 8% of community systems do not meet health-related standards," Maura Allaire, one of the study's authors, said in a release.
Diminishing the process by which waterways are protected could lead to contamination that many municipalities are simply unprepared to handle, upping the risk of contracting disease and illness via tap water.
"Relaxing standards of the Clean Water Act might lead to impairment of source water that communities rely on," Allaire said. "Someone must pay the clean-up costs. Either the entities that are sources of pollution must clean up, or communities downstream must bear the additional costs of water treatment."