New Report Highlights How Climate Change is Worsening Water and Sanitation Access for Frontline Communities in the United States

Research from Pacific Institute and DigDeep underscores intensifying need to ensure basic water and sanitation for millions

Oakland, California, Jan. 30, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In a newly released report, the Pacific Institute and DigDeep, in partnership with the Center for Water Security and Cooperation, paint a sobering picture of how climate change is straining access to water and sanitation in communities throughout the United States. The new research details how frontline communities, those hit “first and worst” by climate change, face disproportionate impacts in the United States when trying to access basic water and sanitation systems. The report, entitled “Climate Change Impacts to Water and Sanitation for Frontline Communities in the United States,” is the first in the new multi-report series: “Water, Sanitation, and Climate Change in the United States.

For the millions of people in the United States who currently lack basic indoor plumbing or have unsafe water, climate change will continue to exacerbate their ability to access water and sanitation. The report outlines how this can lead to backsliding, the process by which a climate change impact causes a home or a community to lose access to safe drinking water or a functioning sanitation system, either temporarily or permanently.

“Innovative approaches are going to be required to close the water access gap and ensure that water and sanitation systems serving frontline communities are climate resilient for the long term,” said Dr. Shannon McNeeley, Senior Researcher and Water and Climate Equity Lead of the Pacific Institute. 

“The staggering reality that millions in the U.S. lack basic water services underscores the urgent need for systemic change. We're at a critical juncture where investing in climate-resilient water infrastructure is not just a necessity for public health but a fundamental step towards social justice and equity,” said Kimberly Lemme, Executive Director of DigDeep Labs.

The report highlights how a changing climate has altered the water cycle, increased the occurrence of climate catastrophes, and weakened the nation’s aging water infrastructure. It offers a synthesis of climate impacts, highlighting the disproportionate burdens shouldered by frontline communities. Specifically, the report highlights challenges across six key climate change phenomena, concluding that marginalized communities' access to water and sanitation will likely worsen as these intensify:

  • Drought, worsened by climate change, is resulting in reduced water availability, especially for rural communities dependent on shallow wells.
  • Flooding, a costly and growing risk from changes in the amount and timing of extreme precipitation events, is among the most expensive disasters in the United States, causing damage to water and sanitation infrastructure and contaminating water supplies in rural and urban communities. 
  • Sea level rise has compounded risks for wastewater treatment infrastructure. Damage is causing loss of sanitation access not just for those along the coasts, but for many times the number of people inland who are no longer connected to functioning systems. 
  • Extreme storms, like hurricanes and tornadoes, disproportionately impact Black, Hispanic, disabled, and low-income communities. Impacts include chemical exposure from contaminated water and a lack of resources for bottled water before services are renewed due to disabilities, financial constraints, and other factors.  
  • Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can disrupt water access, harm water quality, and compound health risks in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, outdoor laborers, or those experiencing homelessness.
  • Recovery and remediation of water contaminated by wildfire debris is costly, placing especially high burdens on low-income households. 

“By delving into the intersection of water, sanitation, and climate change, this report makes a unique contribution to our understanding of a national crisis. It highlights the necessity of addressing climate impacts in tandem with water and sanitation issues to effectively support frontline communities,” said Alexandra Campbell-Ferrari, Executive Director of the Center for Water Security and Cooperation.

The “Water, Sanitation, and Climate Change in the United States” series illuminates and addresses the critical intersection of climate change, water, and equity in the United States. The series focuses on exploring the profound impacts of climate change on water and sanitation access for frontline communities. Future installments, covering laws and policies, challenges and barriers, and strategies and approaches, are set for release later this year. The second part in the series focused on laws and policies will be released in spring 2024. 

For more information, contact Dr. Amanda Bielawski, Director of Communications and Outreach of the Pacific Institute, at or

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Founded in 1987, the Pacific Institute is a global water think tank that combines science-based thought leadership with active outreach to influence local, national, and international efforts in developing sustainable water policies. From working with Fortune 500 companies to frontline communities, our mission is to create and advance solutions to the world’s most pressing water challenges. Since 2009, the Pacific Institute has also acted as co-secretariat for the CEO Water Mandate, a global commitment platform that mobilizes a critical mass of business leaders to address global water challenges through corporate water stewardship. For more information, visit

DigDeep is a human rights nonprofit working to ensure every person in the United States has access to clean running water and sanitation at home. The organization has served thousands of families across the country through its award-winning and community-led field projects: the Navajo Water Project (Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah), Appalachia Water Project (West Virginia), and Colonias Water Project (Texas). DigDeep is a leading force in U.S. water access research, workforce development, and policy advocacy, underscoring its commitment to addressing the sector's lack of comprehensive data. Notable national reports, including "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan" and "Draining: The Economic Impact of America’s Hidden Water Crisis," unveiled the harsh reality that over 2 million people in the US live without a toilet or tap at home, which costs the American economy a staggering $8.6 billion annually. For more information, please visit 

The Center for Water Security and Cooperation (CWSC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 2015, the mission of the CWSC is to advance water security and cultivate cooperation by building a unified body of laws, policies, practices, and standards that ensure the availability of water for current and future generations, and a peaceful, stable, and vibrant global society. Ultimately, the CWSC works to ensure that law and practice guarantee water security and universal access to water and sanitation because without good law those people who have access will lose it, and those who don't, won't ever get it. More information about the CWSC can be found at  


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