Water is the most essential substance to sustain human life. We rely on it everyday to hydrate our bodies and to ensure the crops we grow are thriving. However, as recent dramatic examples demonstrate, when this resource is subject to political manipulation, public health is put at extreme risk. This was exactly what occurred in Flint, Michigan, where thousands of families consumed lead-contaminated water for several months before finding out the drinking water was unsafe. Likewise, in Charleston, West Virginia, the chemical known as MCHM -- which is used for industrial coal processing -- spilled into the Elk River leaving thousands without drinkable water. Finally, in Toledo, Ohio, a toxic algal bloom prevented 500,000 people from drinking their water along Lake Erie.
Throughout the past decade, federal, state, and local governments have struggled with public water management. Drinking water sources in the United States are extremely vulnerable to contamination with various pollutants or chemicals that industries rely on. While there is a long history of federal legislation and policy designed to prevent these crises from occurring, it has become clear that such policies have been ineffective at maintaining safe drinking water. This thesis maps how each recent crisis -- in Michigan, West Virginia, and Ohio -- represents a governmental failure at the local, state, and federal levels. I argue that official decisions and unofficial judgement calls by elected and non-elected public officials lead to "politically made disasters" in which public health was negatively impacted. I conclude that strong preventative measures must be taken, primarily at the state and local level, otherwise these recent water crises might start a vicious cycle of poor water quality for the future.