Along the Texas-Mexico border, nearly 90,000 people are believed to still live without running water. An untold number more — likely tens of thousands, but no one is sure — often have running water of such poor quality that they cannot know what poisons or diseases it might carry.
They are mostly low-income Hispanics, some living in isolated pockets or low-grade developments on land nobody else wanted. Poor, powerless and out of sight, they continue to grapple with the illnesses and hardships that come from lacking such a basic necessity.
“Some people have no idea that there’s still third-world conditions in the most powerful country in the world,” says U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat whose constituents live in some of the worst conditions.
It is not a new problem. State and national governments launched massive efforts to solve it in the 1980s when the border’s population surged. They created huge institutions to funnel billions of dollars toward building treatment plants and pipelines.
But many people have been left behind. Whether rooted in sloppy development, political infighting, lax enforcement or environmental hurdles, each border community’s challenges tell a version of the same story — families struggling for an essential resource most people take for granted.