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2 March, 2021

Why do poor Americans get bad water? What’s race got to do with it?

icon clean water,environmental racism,green jobs,pollution
Contaminated water is a health hazard for many Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities. This hazard becomes fatal when disasters like the Texas power outage strike.

Contaminated water is a health hazard for many Black, Hispanic and Native American communities. It is even more fatal with disasters such as the recent Texas power outage.

There is a glaring injustice inherent in U.S. drinking water systems: low-income communities are more likely than their wealthier neighbors to be served drinking water that is of poorer quality, with higher levels of potentially toxic contaminants. - Truthout

Why are so many polluting facilities located close to poor communities such as Flint, Michigan and Florence, South Carolina? Is there a more environmentally friendly way to provide water for diasaster relief than shipping truckloads of plastic water bottles? Can underserved communities be self-reliant and affordably produce their own clean water in an environmentally friendly way? How can community organizers build support and raise funds for projects to uplift their communities?

Reverend Leo Woodberry shows what's possible. He is the pastor of the Kingdom Living Temple in Florence, SC a predominantly black town near Myrtle Beach, SC where nearly 1 in 5 people live in poverty. His innovative project produces water from air and creates green jobs in the process! The Reverend uses relational organizing to mobilize support and raise funds for more water generating plants across the country.

This blog describes how NACDC has built a sustainable water source in Florence using Source Global Hydropanels and is raising funds for more panels in other under-served communities with relational organizing.

Reverend Leo Woodberry

The Reverend Leo Woodberry works on environmental hazards that disproportionately impacting people of color including clean water and air. He is the Executive Director of New Alpha Community Development Corporation in Florence, SC which partners with the Kingdom Living Temple and the Whitney M. Slater Foundation. The CDC works on environomics, the intersection of environmental issues and community economic development. It develops participatory democratic empowerment models that improve the lives of lower- and middle-class people and families by building assets and creating wealth for everyday people. He is also the director of the New Alpha Community Development Corporation (NACDC) which is part of a statewide coalition that works on environmental justice around water quality issues in low-income Black communities.

Rev. Woodberry is the director of the New Alpha Community Development Corporation (NACDC) which is part of a statewide coalition that works on environmental justice around water quality issues in low-income Black communities. He feels a duty as a pastor to share the good news with the world that we have the opportunities at hand to steward and replenish the earth with clean energy resources and climate action.

“In the Christian faith tradition–as in Islam and Judaism–the creation story states that when mankind was created, we were endowed by our creator as stewards of the earth. God told mankind not only to be fruitful and multiply, but also replenish the earth—meaning to put something back into it. We are stewards of whatever is on the earth and just as God said that everything in creation was good, it is our responsibility to see that it remains good.” - Rev. Leo Woodberry in Clean Energy

The SOURCE® Hydropanel uses proprietary technology that uses the power of the sun to extract clean, pollutant-free drinking water from the air. Collected water is then mineralized for ideal composition and taste, making premium-quality drinking water a readily available resource.

SOURCE® Hydropanel

The SOURCE® Hydropanel uses proprietary technology that uses the power of the sun to extract clean, pollutant-free drinking water from the air. Collected water is then mineralized for ideal composition and taste, making premium-quality drinking water a readily available resource. Highlights:
- Solar energy powers the panel completely off-grid
- Fans draw in ambient air and push it through a water-absorbing material that traps the water vapor
- The water vapor is extracted and condenses into water collected in the reservoir
- Minerals are added to improve drinking water quality

Water pollution in communities of color

"Skepticism about drinking water is pervasive in many black communities, most recently in the urban cities like Milwaukee, where high childhood lead poisoning rates plague the city, and Flint, Michigan, where lead from pipes leached into the city’s water. But it also affects the pockets of poverty in states such as Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina and Texas, where many residents rely on antiquated water systems and haphazard monitoring or live near businesses and industries whose waste, they say, pollutes their water systems." - Public Integrity

"Flint switched from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River in 2014, in part to save money. But the city did not use corrosion control to prevent lead from entering the water. The river itself was also found to contain eight times more chloride than Detroit’s water, a chemical that is highly corrosive to metals. Once Flint switched its water supply, most Flint residents knew it immediately. Residents described the water coming from their taps often as a brownish-yellow and said it both smelled and tasted odd." - Time

Mapping environmental racism

This map highlights how environmental pollution is a concentrated in disadvantaged communities of color.
1. The color of a district shows the predominant race.
2. The dark blotches are a heat map of sites known by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to produce pollutants

Patterns emerge where polluting sources are clustered in poor communities with predominantly minority communities.
- Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia with predominantly Black communities
- Texas, California, Idaho with predominantly Hispanic communities
- North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana with many Native American communities

Zoom in and click on this interactive map for details

Drinking water systems in low-income communities are more likely than their wealthier neighbors to be served drinking water that is of poorer quality, with higher levels of potentially toxic contaminants.

Applying Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for social justice

Patterns are easier to identify when data is presented visually and can be explored at will. We used ArcGIS Online to create this map using data from Community Atlas. The map can be freely shared with this link https://arcg.is/1KLCmO0 or embedded into a web site with this line of code.

< iframe width="300" height="200" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen src="https://arcg.is/1KLCmO0">

esri offers non-profit licenses to the tools we used to create this map for an annual fee of $150. It is a fifty year old firm with over 9,000 employees and works with many of the world's largest corporations and over 13,000 non-profits.

Relational Organizing in action

The New Alpha CDC team uses relational organizing to reach out to residents and volunteers. They send messages about community meetings, city halls and volunteering opportunities through Vote Force, a free app. New Alpha CDC supporters with the app further share those messages in the form of texts with their friends and also share them on social media.

New Alpha CDC uses Vote Force relational organizing app to mobilize supporters

Takeaway: Reverend Leo Woodberry preaches 'We are the cavalry' and his projects for environmental justice shows what's possible with innovation and some divine inspiration.

Deepak
DemLabs

Image credit: This image provided by FlintWaterStudy.org shows water samples from a Flint, Mich. home. The bottles were collected, from left, on Jan. 15 (2), Jan. 16 and Jan. 21, 2015. FlintWaterStudy.org

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