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A Call for Transparency During Drinking Water Week

A conservation group gave North Dakota's water systems an F. (Joe Pell/Flickr)
A conservation group gave North Dakota's water systems an F. (Joe Pell/Flickr)
May 8, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. – It's Drinking Water Week in North Dakota, and watchdogs are calling for transparency for the state's water systems.

Scott Edwards, co-director of Food and Water Justice at Food and Water Watch, says the oil and gas industry and industrial agriculture are two of the biggest contributors to water pollutions. They also are two of the biggest industries in the Peace Garden State. Edwards says both state and federal regulations for oil and gas, in particular, are weak.

"We don't even have a good grasp on the level of contamination coming out of oil and gas and fracking operations," he notes. "We know that it's extensive. We know that tests have been done. They're finding high levels of several pollutants. We also know that the industry doesn't even have to keep track or make public what it's pumping into the ground at these drilling sites."

In agriculture, Edwards says operations where a large number of animals are raised in small spaces, known as confined animal feeding operations, are the biggest concern for clean water. The operations produce lots of manure that can leak into groundwater. The state of North Dakota says nearly 99 percent of its community and rural water systems meet health standards.

However, a 2016 report from the Izaak Walton League of America gave North Dakota's water systems an F. It notes that the state reported testing 100 percent of its streams. However, the report says it's only tested 1 percent because of a lack of permanent water-testing stations. Edwards says North Dakota isn't the only state failing to be upfront about its water quality.

"We're seeing a massive effort in this country at state and federal level to make sure that people don't get access to the information they should have about their water systems," he laments.

Edwards says the Environmental Protection Agency should approve higher standards for water quality since they set the baseline. He says states usually do not go much further than the EPA on regulations. The Izaak Walton report gave North Dakota a D+ for its water quality standards.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND