What's in your Water?

Explore the many challenges and equally promising solutions across our water ecosystem.

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POV 01


What's in your Water?

Explore the many challenges and equally promising solutions across our water ecosystem.

A Vision for Clean Drinking Water in the US and Beyond

We see a future with clean drinking water for all. In the United States, there is an opportunity to address water contamination, transform industry and infrastructure, and drive innovation that will enable the world to transcend water scarcity and pollution. From tap water at home, to parks and schools, we can and must focus on our most basic human need of clean water. This LIGHT CoCreative Point of View will explore the many complex challenges and interdependencies of our water system in the US. Our intention is to inspire awareness and positive change. May the problem definition, top solutions and ecosystem leaders we’ve identified refresh your imagination and vision for what’s possible in the near future. 

Problem Story: The Water Reality for Flint and Millions More

For years every drop of water has reflected a daily struggle to stay safe and healthy for the residents of Flint, Michigan. Imagine that from showers to drinking water, bottled water being your only access to clean water. Nearly 30,000 schoolchildren have been exposed to lead in their drinking water, correlating to rising requests for special education and behavioral interventions in Flint. The percentage of students in Flint who qualify for special services has nearly doubled within a year of this lead exposure. Children are now facing lifelong consequences because of this exposure to unsafe drinking water. It’s time for more actionable suggestions and uncovering opportunities for change.

To better understand the current challenges for Flint residents we need to look at the challenges and missteps of local leadership. Recently, in an effort to cut costs and ease the financial crisis the city of Flint was facing, financial emergency managers appointed by the state decided to temporarily source water for the town from the Flint River as opposed to Lake Huron, the more expensive option. The water from the Flint River is not inherently dangerous, and would have been potable if it was treated properly to control corrosion as the water moves through the city's aging lead pipes. However, the city did not treat the water, a process that would only cost $80 to $100 a day, neglecting to ever install the pump needed for the treatment process. 

The consequences of this decision primarily affected Flint’s children, exposing thousands to high levels of lead through their drinking water. Lead poisoning has long-lasting effects on children’s cognitive development, resulting in drops in the IQ of a population and increasing the number of children who need special education services. Lead poisoning in children has been linked to impulsivity, increasing the likelihood of conditions like attention deficit disorder and even violence and criminality.  

The water crisis in Flint is one of the most notable examples of the dangers of toxic drinking water, but throughout the United States, millions of people are exposed to harmful chemicals in their drinking water. It is important to note that eighty percent of the unsafe drinking water violations in the U.S. are in small, underfunded water systems, further reflecting environmental injustice and systemic nature of the problem.

Although the EPA estimates that over 60,000 chemicals found throughout U.S. drinking water systems are unhealthy to consume, only 94 contaminants are regulated by the SDWA.

Furthermore, the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is not sufficiently enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) across the entire nation.

Reframing Our Systemic Water Problem

In order to shape a shared vision and understanding for solutions, we need to explore several of the factors that contribute to the unsafe drinking water problem in the United States, including; aging infrastructure, fractional leadership, pollution, industrial waste, and education. 

Aging Infrastructure

Most of the water infrastructure in the U.S. was built in the early to mid 19th century with an intended lifespan of 75-100 years. As pipes age they are increasingly susceptible to corrosion, resulting in lead or heavy metal poisoning of the water supply. Federal funding is based on the value of current assets, as opposed to need, resulting in increasing rates to repair water infrastructure which disproportionately affect low-income Americans. 

Fractional Leadership

Eighty eight percent of the population is served by decentralized water systems managed by local or state governments. Each locality is governed by its own board, resulting in vastly different systems, funding levels, rules and regulations across the country. The decentralized nature of these water systems makes it increasingly difficult to scale innovations across the country as they must be tailored for each utility. Smaller water systems are considerably disadvantaged in that they have less funding and less experience, making it difficult for these systems to afford and utilize new technology. 

The water industry is also a tightly regulated, risk-averse market. As such, utilities are wary of experimentation with new technologies in favor of reliable service. 

Pollution and Industrial Waste

For decades, local manufacturing plants, mining sites, and waste disposal companies have contaminated drinking water with harmful chemicals. There is little transparency about the effects of these chemicals on public health, as polluting companies are hesitant to share such information. As a result, there is little government regulation of chemicals that are not publicly disclosed as being harmful. 

Consumer Perceptions and Education

Options for clean water can be expensive for consumers, particularly if they have little access to clean tap water. Bottled water and specialty water filters can cost over $100 per month, excluding lower income Americans from these markets. Water affordability and transition programs are in place in certain at risk communities, such as the January 26, 2021 settlement agreement for Newark residents – including free water testing to residents, as well as free filters and replacement cartridges. However, they require extensive public education to emphasize the importance of properly installing, using, and replacing filter cartridges given the health risks of using expired or improperly installed cartridges.

While drinking recycled water is a potential solution, it is often hindered by consumer biases creating  a “yuck” factor. While countries like Singapore consume recycled water, American farmers won't even use recycled water for their produce. Education around water issues is severely lacking in the U.S., leaving the public highly unaware of water issues that are likely impacting them. 

A Call for Positive Change

It is imperative to address our clean drinking water problem in the U.S. to ensure that all Americans have access to safe drinking water. Raising awareness of our drinking water issues can facilitate relationship building between policy makers and advocates, and will allow communities to continue improving their living conditions and receive political support where needed. 

Rebuilding aging infrastructure will have notable economic advantages through job creation, reduction in healthcare costs, increasing workforce productivity and the overall value of vulnerable cities. Environmentally, access to safe tap water might enable consumers to move away from single-use plastic water bottles, reducing plastic consumption and pollution. 

Due to the intersectional nature of the problem, solutions must be collaborative and considerate of the interests of multiple stakeholders, including the private sector, local, state, and federal governments, non-profits, entrepreneurs and particularly historically marginalized communities.

In the following section, we have identified a set of top solutions, concepts and organizations for further investment and urgent acceleration.

Given the sensitive and potentially triggering nature of this content, we are placing an opt-in button below to deep-dive into the problem areas. Please feel free to continue into the Solution, Resources and Ecosystem Leader sections of this POV. 

Exploring Solutions

The clean drinking water crisis in the United States is clearly complex and the result of many interconnected factors. The American Water Works Association estimates a cost of $1 trillion to fix water infrastructure across America. This is certainly not a small project, but it’s possible. Solutions must be multifaceted, dynamic and well coordinated. 

Firstly, increasing transparency around the various contributing factors is needed to drive positive change in American water systems. We need more data to better understand the problem and determine effective solutions and efficient implementation strategies. This is why digitization and investment in analytics presents a meaningful opportunity.

To fix aging water infrastructure it is imperative that we incentivize investments into long-term solutions, rather than quick-fixes. Better data sources will increase awareness around the issue and might increase funding from governments and non-profit organizations. Mapping out all small water systems will be useful in assessing the cost and most effective method of fixing each one. Looking at small water-systems from a holistic perspective will reveal how these systems interact with one another, and how they might be able to work together to create efficient solutions. 

In order to incentivize investments into water infrastructure we might consider various public and private sector approaches. Privately, one approach is unlocking the potential of local businesses by contracting them to manage infrastructure recovery projects. This approach ensures that unique local needs are met with the financial backing and oversight of the federal government. In the non-profit space, NGOs might leverage crowdfunding to increase community engagement and secure donations by offering tax incentives to those who donate. Publicly, we might look to federal and state governments to undertake massive infrastructure projects, such as the Build Back Better plan, creating thousands of jobs in the process. 

To address pollution and industrial waste, transparency and increased data is again needed in order to understand the scope of the problem. Increased regulation around industrial pollutants will be helpful in ensuring toxins don’t enter the water stream. In order to remediate toxins that do end up in the water stream, the implementation of innovations such as; membrane filtration, UV irradiation, advanced oxidation, ion exchange, and biological filtration is promising. Several companies and entrepreneurial groups offer such innovative technologies, and can be found in the Water Action Ecosystem list below. One talented team and inspiring venture that we would like to highlight is Membrion. Membrion’s mission is to help those industrial water users who aren’t satisfied with processes that are thousands of years old, and who’ve been searching for a better and lower cost way to recycle or reuse their wastewater. Their technology and dynamic approach to water treatment has immense potential.

To address fractional leadership, it is important to find balance and facilitate cooperation using consolidation approaches that improve efficiency with meeting unique local needs. Consolidating water utilities through mergers, or using informal partnerships to implement some standardized protocol can provide cost savings for consumers, increase transparency, improve management and increase accountability for utilities. Increased accountability and justice is important and will likely need to come from an outside regulatory source. 

Most importantly, we need to work with communities to ensure a collaborative approach to addressing the water crisis. Efforts to engage the community might include creating systems to empower community members to report concerns with water quality and facilitate the collection of evidence of contamination, thus empowering people to demand transparency and action. We can further validate the negative effects of contaminated water as a healthcare problem, which typically generates more funding than environmental issues, and provide more cost-benefit analysis to illustrate economic value creation from healthier and more productive communities.

A combination of the solutions proposed will ultimately be needed to approach the problem of clean drinking water access in the United States. In addressing the issue of clean drinking water, it is important to balance creating standardized, large scale solutions with meeting the unique needs of the vastly different communities across the United States. Engaging a wide variety of partners, such as government organizations, community leaders, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and private businesses is crucial in coming up with comprehensive solutions for such a complex problem. 

To play our part, LIGHT CoCreative is aligning with visionary entrepreneurs and organizations like Water Innovation Advisors to envision, cocreate and accelerate solutions. We are committed to tapping our Fortune 500 corporate innovation network and accelerating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives such as PepsiCo’s Net Water Positive commitment. We are reaching out to bold filmmakers and influential celebrities including Kristen Bell, Michael Moore, Jaden Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio who use their platforms to bring light to our systemic problems. We are also investing in more research and thought leadership so we can better guide and shape a shared vision for solutions. 

We recognize that not only Americans, but the entire world is ready for a wave of positive change and needs better access to clean drinking water. The issues surrounding clean water in Flint are not isolated. Please stay tuned for our next clean drinking water piece with an international perspective.  We are committed to working with our partners not only in the US, but globally to improve conditions, increase visibility of these issues, and create novel solutions. 

Interested in learning more about the Water Action Ecosystem? Please see a curated list of leaders we’ve identified and email partners@lightcocreative.com if you’re interested in collaboration opportunities. 

With inspiration & thanks,



Ps- connect with us on Instagram and LinkedIn. Follow #whatsinyourwater hashtag as we begin to curate and add a collection of timely information across social media channels. :)

March 2022

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