Fresh clean unadulterated water, there’s nothing like it. Unfortunately this natural resource is becoming scarcer and scarcer and the years go by. Now you have to live in the right places to get access to the best water. As a citizen of the United States of America, I admit that I’ve grown up with the privilege of clean water to a degree that I never thought twice about it. It didn’t matter where I lived or visited in the states, clean water was always available and for most of my life, it was free.
With the advent of the plastic bottle, this has changed considerably. Instead of free access to water wherever one goes, water is a high profit commodity. Virtually every store or market has plastic water for sale and this water is causing communities to eliminate their access points to free water using infrastructure like water fountains for public use. The concept of free water from water fountains is one that many of the latest generations don’t understand.
Now corporations like Nestle are making millions of dollars and are draining the water supplies of drought stricken areas like California. Currently there is a petition to tell corporations like Sprouts Market to stop selling plastic water bottled illegally and in places where it takes away from the needed and scarce supplies locally.
Here in America Samoa, plastic water is a way of life. This is an unfortunate reality based on several factors, the primary being the way the islanders have tended to their natural resources. While things are getting better than they were two decades ago pollution is still a problem here and littering is a way of life for many. Water quality is impacted by a lack of infrastructure and for decades piggeries (pig farms) polluted the water with fecal matter that went unchecked. Here roughly 10% of homes are missing either running water or a toilet. Additionally, the average annual income is only $13,000 according to the CIA’s website. So things are not very good here when you look at pollution and income. What’s shockingly worse is that the water quality is atrocious.
Taking a look at the American Samoa EPA Integrated Water Quality
Monitoring and Assessment Report will leave one with their jaws dropped wide open. With approximately 250 miles of inland fresh water pathways, and about 150 tested – none were deemed safe for drinking water with pathogens being the primary culprit. Additionally, 15 beaches were tested as unsafe for the Memorial Day weekend. These beaches are primarily located within the inhabited portions of the island where human impact has a negative effect on the water. Fortunately there are pristine areas where most natives don’t travel. These are generally found at the end of mile or longer hikes through national parks land and are definitely a winner for the traveler to enjoy. More on these beaches can be found here, thanks to Lonely Planet
So what do people on this island do for water, one might be asking by this time. The reality is they import it. Some have installed rain water collection systems to provide fresh drinking water, others put out buckets to collect water when it rains. The one thing on the main island is that people don’t drink the tap water. Instead they buy plastic bottles of water. With the average income of $13,000 and a gallon of water costing $2.50 at the store or about $1,000 year per person at a gallon of water per day or between 4 and 6 thousand dollars a year for the average family. Additionally, this represents a quantity of imported water from California that is staggering to quantify. With the average case of bottled water utilizing 3 quarts of oil to manufacture and transport, the CO2 expense to supply water has some serious impacts on global climate change.
As the EPA, American Samoan Power Authority and Government officials work together to improve infrastructure hopefully we will see drastic changes in these facts over the coming decade. But for now, American Samoa is tragically addicted to plastic water and this habit is directly connected to keeping her people in a tragic poverty cycle. Combined with the fact that there is currently no national recycling program leaves much to be desired here in solving problems with pollution and trash management.