Five Interlocking Solutions
The Recovering Stronger Initiative is grounded in five interlocking solutions to make the water sector resilient, sustainable, and equitable in the wake of COVID-19.
These interlocking solutions address structural problems that have led to sub-optimal outcomes for decades. Addressed in concert—and grounded in rebuilding trust across a range of water stakeholders—we can realize water’s promise in fostering public health, equity, and resilience for all.
Despite its essential nature, the United States has undervalued and underinvested in water, and the result is a cascade of compounding problems. We need a sustainable business model and a pricing structure that reflects the true cost of service. We need a funding structure that closes the infrastructure gap and makes systems more resilient to emergencies like COVID-19.
Solution #2: Provide Affordable, Universal Access to Water.
We must build affordability into the financial business models of water agencies, giving them the tools and support needed to maintain service even when individuals struggle financially. We need to set local water agencies up for success on affordability—which requires co-investment and financial innovation. Solutions considered should span from local and regional rate structures all the way up to federal entitlement programs.
Solution #3: Catalyze Utility Partnerships and Consolidation.
More than 80 percent of the nation’s 52,000 community water systems serve fewer than 3,330 people, and 55 percent serve fewer than 500. It is unrealistic to spread sustainable solutions to so many water agencies with different resource and capacity levels. It is time to accelerate community-driven, outcomes-based approaches to partnerships and consolidation that deliver improved water service to communities.
Solution #4: Deploy Smart Water Operations at Scale.
The pandemic reveals why water agencies that made investments in big data, artificial intelligence, remote sensing technology, modern billing and customer service systems, and other digital solutions are better positioned and more resilient than their peers. As municipalities face mounting pressure to “do more with less,” we must scale these solutions to become standard operating practices at every water agency. Intelligent water systems more readily adapt to changing contexts and help public agencies operate efficiently and effectively, even under great strain.
Scientists say we have less than a decade to act on climate, and any efforts to help the water sector recover stronger must contribute to progress on the climate crisis. The water sector has ample opportunities to contribute to climate mitigation and adaption efforts while pursuing sector goals like resilience and sustainability. From renewable energy generation to carbon sinks, water can help reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.