Project Director

Richards, Sean

Department Examiner

Farnsley, Sarah


Honors College


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


America’s current system of water infrastructure poses a threat not only to the environment but also to public health. The water crisis reveals the stark inequalities that exist from both an environmental justice and a social justice perspective. There is a growing concern that without adequate investment from federal resources, the problems related to this issue will only worsen the longer they are neglected. There is little information about how specific environmental and social factors combine with water infrastructure to create long-term infrastructure inequalities. However, this thesis explores the disparities in water infrastructure affordability, vulnerability patterns, and environmental hazards. It also examines the relationship between these variables and the adaptive capacity of disadvantaged communities. As these communities experience this infrastructural inequality on a much larger scale, we are driven to explore the root cause of these problems. Understanding the overlap between the social issues and environmental ones is key in developing strategies to strengthen the environmental and economic resilience of unempowered communities. In the United States, an estimated 1.1 million individuals lack a piped water connection, 73% of which are located close to a networked supply. Isolated statistics like these give only a glimpse into a problem that has much more severe consequences. Drawing on statistical analysis and research, this paper explores sociodemographic patterns of racial, economic, and geographic disparities that characterize water inequity. In the Southeast region especially, these findings show connections between historically discriminative legislation and current infrastructure issues. While there has been research on water justice, there has not been significant evidence to suggest connections between race, income, and geographic location relative to the amount of exposure from environmental causes. This thesis argues that water infrastructure inequality in America should be framed as an issue of social and environmental justice that looks at the structural inequalities of race and class regarding the growing climate crisis. Implementing systems that provide adequate water infrastructure in the United States is a growing issue that continues to threaten the health and safety of public welfare every day.


B. A.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts.




Environmental justice; Water quality management


environmental justice; economic inequality; water crisis


Natural Resources Management and Policy | Water Resource Management

Document Type



43 leaves







Date Available