Water Equity Clearinghouse

Bridging the Gap

Kansas City, MO

Bridging The Gap (BTG), founded in 1992, is a Kansas City-based non-profit with the mission of “connecting environment, economy, and community”. BTG’s founder Robert J. Mann had an early understanding of how closely these three things are interrelated and interdependent, and a vision for advancing them through volunteer engagement including equal representation from the government, business, and private sectors. Today, BTG is unique in conducting both education and environmental mediation, and in the breadth of its programs, ranging from tree planting to prairie restoration, business sustainability, energy efficiency, recycling, litter abatement, and more.  Almost all of BTG’s work is done through the engagement of more than 1700 volunteers annually. 

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

WaterWorks!: In 2012-14, Bridging The Gap designed and executed a large program called WaterWorks! for the City of Kansas City, MO and the U.S. Department of Energy, as part of ARRA. The goal of the program was to advance water efficiency in six of Kansas City’s lowest income neighborhoods, where citizens are burdened by rapidly-rising water utility bills. Bridging The Gap identified a water efficiency kit, made by Niagara Corporation in California, which cost $11 and reduces the average household bill by approximately $15 per month—more for larger households. This three-week payback demonstrated that water efficiency is an even better investment than efficient light bulbs. More than 7,400 kits were distributed and approximately 1700 of these installed by a professional plumber where homeowners lacked the confidence or mobility to do it themselves; the rest were installed by homeowners. Special events were held in each neighborhood to demonstrate the installation and effectiveness of the kit, and to educate residents about other ways they could reduce their water use. Bridging The Gap conducted follow-up calls to make sure the water efficiency kits were installed, and received delighted calls in return from homeowners who saw their water bills drop noticeably. In addition, BTG executed 1,400 $100 rebates for high-efficiency toilets to replace the many old, low-efficiency toilets found in low income neighborhoods. Water use from a new, water-thrifty toilet can be 1/7 that of an older toilet—a meaningful fact in households where a single toilet can be flushed many times daily. Finally, BTG distributed and installed 375 free rain barrels to citizens in the six target neighborhoods.

Bridging The Gap’s WaterWorks! program is listed in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings program’s Best Practices, and was the basis for three DOE webinars conducted, with Bridging The Gap presenting, in 2015 and 2016 to dozens of other municipalities around the country. 

Green Stewards:  The city of Kansas City has been a U.S. leader in installing green infrastructure over 100 acres in a lower-income, low-lying neighborhood called Marlborough. In the fall of 2017, Bridging The Gap is contracting with the City of Kansas City, Missouri’s Water Services department to create and lead a workforce development program called Green Stewards, in which under-employed or hard-to-employ people will learn green infrastructure maintenance skills and practice them in the Marlborough plantings. BTG expects to have a staff of 8 for this program, who will each work towards completion of a national green infrastructure certification program (NGICP) and build their experience and resumes over a 3-year period. Green Stewards will then be eligible for permanent employment with the City of Kansas City’s Parks or Water Services departments (which usually require three years of working experience), or for other municipalities locally which have green infrastructure.

The 2017 Green Stewards program is a pilot; as the City expands its green infrastructure to 700 acres over the next several years, the program is expected to grow accordingly. Bridging The Gap also hopes to expand this workforce development experience into other projects, such as the replanting of thousands of vacant lots with native plants, or the establishment of tree nurseries on some of these lots.