An American Reset ― Safe Water & a Workable Model of Federalism

67 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2016 Last revised: 21 Mar 2017

See all articles by Cara Cunningham Warren

Cara Cunningham Warren

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Date Written: 2016


In 2015, at least 3.9 million Americans were exposed to lead in their drinking water at legally unacceptable levels. An additional 18 million Americans are at risk because their water systems are not in compliance with federal rules designed to detect the presence and to ameliorate the impact of lead contamination. What’s more, in 82% of the cases where the violation related to a health standard, no formal state or federal enforcement action was taken.

These startling statistics indicate that the Flint Water Crisis is not an isolated event. In fact, it is a case study that might explain these statistics. For those who care to see, Flint Water reveals a fault line within our cooperative federalism model: We are relying on an increasingly inappropriate power structure to guarantee the safety of our water supply, one that places the heaviest burden on the least powerful actor — the water supplier. This article proposes a ‘reset’ of the model in order to achieve safe water and government accountability.

Keywords: Federalism, Flint Water, Safe Drinking Water Act

Suggested Citation

Cunningham Warren, Cara, An American Reset ― Safe Water & a Workable Model of Federalism (2016). 27 Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum 51 (2016).. Available at SSRN:

Cara Cunningham Warren (Contact Author)

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law ( email )

651 E. Jefferson
Detroit, MI 48226
United States

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