Ask Candidates What They Will Do to Protect Our Drinking Water

Vote! Credit:  PhotoStockImage / Shutterstock

Water is our planet’s most vital natural resource and has long faced an array of threats. Runoff from city streets and lawns; agricultural runoff from farm fields containing nitrates, phosphorus, e. coli, and toxic pesticides; industrial waste from energy production, mining, and manufacturing; sewer overflows; unchecked land development; emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, PFAS, and toxic algae.  Climate change will exacerbate many of these and will also have devastating effects on our drinking water supplies.

While approximately 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, only 3 percent is suitable for drinking. Everyone needs safe and affordable drinking water.  There are many decisions made by elected officials that affect delivery of water and whether it is safe and affordable.  Why is it that protecting the quality of such an integral and limited resource has been not only inconsistent, but an uphill battle?

One of the biggest reasons for this battle is because some of the people we elect do not consider safe and affordable drinking water a priority when they are making decisions for our communities. Who we elect in November will decide how we pay for our drinking water, how much it will cost, and if we start to address the deficit in important infrastructure that delivers our water to our taps.  They will decide how much pollution is allowed into our drinking water sources in the first place and how much money is prioritized to protect our drinking water sources.  In short, who we elect to represent us at City Hall, the County Commission, the State Capitol, and in Washington D.C. makes a big difference for our drinking water.

People like you, people who care about protecting our water, health, and ensuring everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water can make the difference to elect clean water champions and pass proactive policies. One of the best ways to pass good policies is to get engaged in the election in November.  You can ask the candidates tough questions about drinking water and then vote for the candidate who will protect our health and our drinking water.

The following drinking water issues will be debated this summer and fall leading up to the election in November.  If you have a chance, ask the candidates running for office in your community about where they stand on these issues that affect our health everyday. You can use the introduction to each issue as background when asking your question and choose the question that is most important to you!


Water infrastructure:  EPA estimates that Minnesota must invest approximately $7.4 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade community public water systems to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act 1 An estimated $1 trillion is necessary nationwide to repair, replace, and expand drinking water distribution systems over the next 25 years. We desperately need investments in the pumps and pipes below ground that deliver water our taps.

Questions to Ask the Candidates:

  1. If elected, how will you increase funding available to communities to pay for drinking water infrastructure upgrades?
  2. Lower income, communities of color, and underserved communities bear the brunt of many of our infrastructure problems because they cannot afford to upgrade or do not have the credit to access low interest loans.  Will you support forgivable loans and grant programs to make sure these communities can access the needed tax dollars?
  3. If elected, how will you ensure communities are able to fix failing water infrastructure and provide safe and affordable drinking water without financially over burdening economically challenged families or pricing water so people can’t afford it?

Keeping drinking water safe: Nearly 80% of Minnesotans receive their drinking water from public water systems, while about 20% use private wells.  About 75% of Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater sources.2 Being the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and boasting more than 90,000 miles of rivers and streams it can be easy to take clean water and drinking water for granted in Minnesota. However, providing safe drinking water is not free and drinking water systems struggle with aging infrastructure, contaminant challenges, and limited funds.

Questions to Ask the Candidates:

  1. Do you support increased funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or increased State Bonds to address outdated and failing wastewater infrastructure?
  2. If elected, how will you increase funding available to communities to pay to keep drinking water safe and affordable?
  3. How large of an increase, if any, do you think we need in drinking water funding to provide safe and affordable drinking water?

Lead Service Lines: Water traveling to consumers through lead service lines poses a serious threat to the health of residents. Lead is a highly poisonous metal and can affect almost every organ in the body and the nervous system. Lead service lines need to be replaced in full, including both publicly and privately owned portions of the line. It is estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers that it will cost $30-$40 billion to replace every lead service line in the country.3

Questions to Ask the Candidates:

  1. Communities of color and low-income communities bear the greatest burden of the health effects from lead service lines, if elected, will you support legislation to address environmental justice issues like lead poisoning? If so, what specific policies will you propose?
  2. If elected, what solutions will you propose for lead service line replacement on private property?
  3. If elected, how will you update drinking water laws in your state to improve monitoring of contaminants and address issues related to affordability?

Industrial Agricultural pollution: Runoff pollution from industrial agricultural lands carries excessive nutrients and toxic pesticides into our waterways. These “farms” confine tens of thousands of animals in close quarters. These facilities produce huge amounts of animal waste, too much to be sustainably applied to the land as fertilizer which fuels harmful and at times toxic algal outbreaks across Minnesota. In Minnesota, where single crop agriculture and factory farms dominate the land to feed the millions of animals in feedlots, up to 80% of the lakes and rivers are unsafe to swim in. This is a significant threat to the region’s drinking water, quality of life, and economic well-being.

Questions to Ask the Candidates:

  1. Water pollution from agricultural operations is a significant source of pollution impacting many of our surface and ground water resources. What measures would you support to reduce this pollution?
  2. If elected, what will you do to ensure agriculture is sustainable and our communities are protected from the environmental and economic damages these factory farms cause?
  3. If elected, what will you do to reduce runoff pollution from agricultural lands?
  4. If elected, how will you prioritize Farm Bill conservation dollars to reduce runoff pollution?

Climate Change: Global warming and a changing climate will continue to have disruptive and unpredictable effects on both our drinking water sources and communities. Some places will experience increased frequency and intensity of rain, floods, and sewer overflows. Other areas will experience frequent droughts, water scarcity and increased fire risk. These changes can disproportionately affect underserved communities and those already facing significant health and economic burdens.

Questions to Ask the Candidates:

  1. Communities of color and low-income communities bear the greatest burden of environmental pollution, have the least access to climate solutions and are often left out of decision-making processes that affect their communities.  If elected, will you support legislation to address environmental justice issues? If so, what specific policies will you propose?
  2. Global climate change has emerged as one of the most important environmental issues of our time. To what degree do you agree this is a serious environmental challenge that needs to be addressed in the next 10 years?
  3. What actions will you take if you are elected to address climate change and its devastating effects on our drinking water sources?


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: EPA plays a critical role in safeguarding Minnesota from pollution. The EPA sets standards for our drinking water and enforces those standards to protect our health. The EPA must receive funding and policy direction that ensures federal clean water efforts do not backslide.

Questions to Ask the Candidates:

  1. In recent years, funding state agency budgets and programs have been inconsistent and/or inadequate. Nationally, every budget proposed by the Trump administration has proposed cuts between 25%-35% to the EPA budget. Will you support efforts to increase funding to agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency/EPA for programs meant to protect the environment and public health?
  2. How will you ensure the EPA is able to continue to support critical Minnesota programs?
  3. How will you ensure that the states and tribes have the resources needed to protect our drinking water and other water resources from pollution?
  4. Will you oppose any attempts to weaken and/or repeal any existing environmental and public health protections?

There are several ways you can get involved to protect our drinking water!  The election coming up in November is a perfect way to make sure our drinking water is protected and that everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water.  There are many ways you can involved attend a candidate debate or forum (virtually?) and ask some of these questions, you can write a letter to the editor about how important clean water is to you and who you are voting for to make sure that happens, or you can speak up on social media and talk with family and friends about it.

Most importantly though, make sure you get out and vote in November for candidates who support clean water and safe and affordable drinking water!

If you have any questions or want to get more involved, please contact Steve Schultz at sschultz(at)cleanwater(dot)org.


[1] Minnesota Department of Health. “Minnesota Drinking Water Annual Report for 2018.” p. 4.