Forgotten Waters

The Georgetown Law Journal, Forthcoming

51 Pages Posted: 7 May 2022

See all articles by Michele Okoh

Michele Okoh

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: April 13, 2022


Over 43 million Americans, approximately 15% of the population, rely on private wells for drinking water. These Americans do not have access to public water systems and are not protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act. These individuals are instead left with a set of widely differing state laws regulating their drinking water wells. Most of these states do not have any standards related to drinking water quality. Well owners are instead responsible for monitoring and maintaining the safety of their water.

This problem is often characterized as a rural issue, hard to solve because of the large distance to treated water infrastructure. This assumption is wrong. Many homes are located in peri-urban communities, close to public water systems. These systems often have been excluded from public water systems due to racial/ethnic discrimination and poverty. Using the example of communities surrounding Mebane, North Carolina, this essay argues that approaches to addressing access to safe drinking water must account for this legacy of discrimination and discusses why the Rural Electrification Act provides a promising model to provide safe drinking water to well dependent populations.

Keywords: Environmental justice, water, public health, water infrastructure, environment, law, policy, racial justice

Suggested Citation

Okoh, Michele, Forgotten Waters (April 13, 2022). The Georgetown Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Michele Okoh (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

Durham, NC
United States
919-613-7873 (Phone)
27708 (Fax)

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