Our Christian Call to Advocate for Clean Water

West Virginia water justice advocate puzzled by EPA’s meager attempt to fund massive water pollution problems created by its own inactions

A sign in the shape of a water drop that reads "God's gift."

Most of us cannot imagine living without access to clean, safe water, but an editorial in the L.A. Times indicates that approximately 1.6 million people in our nation have little or no immediate access to water or water delivery systems, according to U. S. Census Bureau data. Some may lack access to safe water at the source because the water has been poisoned by industrial or agricultural activities. Others lack sanitation systems or indoor plumbing–which many of us take for granted.

What’s known is this: “The problem is experienced most acutely by African Americans in the rural South, Latinos in the rural Southwest, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, residents of deep Appalachia, and migrant and seasonal farmworkers… the census’ big number — 1.6 million — doesn’t include the millions of Americans who have plumbing but unsafe tap water. Think of Flint, Michigan.”

If you wonder whether, as Christian stewards of the Earth, we have a responsibility to advocate for those who don’t have access to water, both the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures offer us guidance. Psalms 19:1-6 states that all of creation is a manifestation of God’s glory and acts as a praise to God’s glory. Further, Psalms 24 reminds us that the earth is not ours, but the Lord’s; and then, Genesis 1:26-28 directs all men and women to become stewards of God’s earth.

Jesus said in Mathew 10:42, perhaps as an act of justice, “And whoever gives one of these little ones a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

How, then, can we serve Him in aiding in fulfilling this human need? As Christians and good stewards of the Earth, we show love for our neighbors who lack access to safe, affordable water by urging federal agencies to simply do their jobs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced they will be awarding $15 million in grants to rural communities across the country “for technical assistance and training providers to improve the water quality of small and private water systems.” The agency further stated that “…ensuring everyone has access to clean and safe water…is a top priority for EPA.”

I wish that were true. Don’t be lulled into thinking that EPA is doing rural communities any big favors while doling out grants.

Unfortunately, the EPA has ignored a host of significant water issues, certainly in central Appalachia. Additionally, the current administration has rolled back and repealed a significant number of rules and regulations meant to protect water at the urging of polluting business interests . For decades in West Virginia, EPA allowed coal companies, using an egregious mining process known as mountaintop removal mining, to dump millions of tons of mining waste into headwater streams, burying and polluting water downstream.

Additionally, our region’s water is threatened by another extreme extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Already in West Virginia, water wells are contaminated and unusable. Alarmingly, studies report that people living in Pennsylvania near these frack sites are falling ill with rare cancers.

If the EPA was truly intent on providing access to clean, safe water to everyone, it would protect our water and not allow fossil fuel industries to pollute it in the first place.

As Christians and good stewards of this gift of water, we also can help protect life-sustaining water by joining with others, actively educating lawmakers about the need of preserving water as our faith traditions suggest. As Creation Justice Ministries states: “Through the waters of our baptism, we are reminded of how God’s redeeming grace cleanses and renews us. God provides all of creation with clean water for good reason. Clean water is essential to health and habitat. It keeps us hydrated, healthy, and turns our homes, our recreation sites, and workspaces into safe places.”

How can we have faith or trust in the EPA if the agency can’t assure that all our nation’s people have access to affordable, safe water, a basic survival necessity, a gift from God, and a human right?

Janet Keating is a member of the United Methodist Church. She owns and operates Green Shepherd, LLC & is the retired Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.