When water comes rushing out of the tap, seemingly clear and perfect, it’s easy to think we’ve got it figured out. It’s hard to imagine that the underground labyrinth that brings us drinking water, and takes away our dirty sewage, is old, crumbling and in real trouble. Quench your thirst for knowledge and drama as we dive into the strangely fascinating world of clean water. Hosted by Jed Kim, In Deep is a new podcast from American Public Media’s The Water Main.
Make Me Care
After months of research, In Deep reporters and editors have become fascinated with water infrastructure. But can they convince a Gen Zer to care? In this episode, Todd Melby, Annie Baxter and Dan Ackerman go head to head to persuade Erianna Jiles that she should care about water infrastructure. Who will succeed? We also answer listener questions on lead service lines and bidets!
Photo: Erianna Jiles
Brown Flood, Green Flood
Giant engineering projects didn’t solve all of Chicago’s water woes. Intense rainfalls are dumping more water on the city, resulting in more flooding. This despite about $4 billion in spending on one of the most expensive public works projects in the nation’s history. So what can Chicago do? Some point to green infrastructure — plants, trees, rooftop gardens — as one of the best ways forward. And we go to Philadelphia to see how that city is really embracing green.
Photo: Todd Melby
Well, Well, Well
In the 1990s, lakes and wetlands dried up in Florida’s fast-growing Tampa Bay region. Some attributed the drastic change to drought; others to overpumping of an underground aquifer. A pitched legal battle, known as the Water Wars, played out. Some government-run utilities wanted to keep pumping from the aquifer; others wanted to look for new water sources. Eventually, they began to work together to find multiple sources of drinking water.
Randy and Mark Barthle, Barthle Brothers Ranch owners
Honey Rand, Water Wars author
Eileen Hart, Tampa Bay resident and water rights activist
Ken Herd, Tampa Bay Water, chief science and technical officer
Radhika Fox, US Water Alliance, chief executive officer
Photo: Courtesy of Tampa Bay Water
Small Town, Big Struggles
Today we leave the big cities behind and ask: How does rural America manage its water infrastructure? After all, one in five U.S. households isn’t connected to a sewer system. We visit the rolling mountains of Letcher County, Kentucky. There, in the early 1900s, coal mining firms built company towns with little attention to long-term infrastructure. Decades later, local residents are dealing with the consequences. We hear from former coal miner Carroll Smith about his push in the 1990s to bring clean drinking water and safe wastewater disposal to communities across the county. And we learn where he ran into challenges.
Upmanu Lall, Director of the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University
Carroll Smith, former Judge Executive of Letcher County, Kentucky
Allan Tuggle, retired miner
Edna McBee, Millstone resident
Mark Lewis, General Manager, Letcher County Water and Sewer District
Photo: Britta Greene
Clean water can get contaminated on its way to your faucet. In America, more than 9 million lead service lines connect city water to individual homes (and apartments), leaving millions of people vulnerable to potentially harmful doses of lead. Retired EPA scientist — and Flint whistleblower — Miguel Del Toral shows us lead pipes unearthed from his property in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood and explains why they're no longer considered safe. And we talk to a Milwaukee father, who stumbled upon this lesson with his young son.
→ Read APM Reports’ investigation → Read Del Toral’s memorandum on Flint
Miguel Del Toral, EPA scientist (retired)
Rick Rabin, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health
Tory Lowe, Milwaukee activist (and father of four)
Karen Baehler, scholar-in-residence at American University School of Public Affairs
Photo: Lauren Rosenthal | APM Reports
Older American cities have a dirty problem — outdated sewer systems that use a single pipe to carry both sewage and stormwater to treatment facilities. As population growth and climate change have increased both sewage and stormwater, those pipes can get filled to capacity, and the untreated water sometimes ends up in waterways, where it wreaks havoc on the ecosystem. Chicago’s strategy for stopping the overflows has been to build massive reservoirs and a 109-mile-long system of tunnels hundreds of feet below ground. It’s a gargantuan holding tank for filthy water. Unfortunately, it may not be big enough.