Water Equity Clearinghouse

Seattle Public Utilities

Seattle, WA

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is the water utility serving the City of Seattle, providing water, sewer, and garbage services for 1.3 million people in its service area. The city has been a champion of equitable approaches to government, something that has become central to Seattle Public Utilities’ work.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

In 2005, Seattle Public Utilities launched its change team and created the Environmental Justice and Service Equity (EJSE) division to support the utility in realizing the goals of the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), a plan launched by Mayor Nickels with the goal of transforming city government and ending institutional racism. The change team has averaged eight to ten people and EJSE currently has 12 people on staff.

Some of RSJI’s early accomplishments included providing mandatory trainings on race and other key topics for over 1,300 utility employees; creating and applying Racial Equity Toolkits for identifying and addressing racial inequities in the utility’s policies, programs, and services; embedding racial equity questions into planning processes; and developing partnerships with community-based organizations to effectively engage customers, particularly people of color, immigrants, and refugees. In 2014, the utility adopted a Service Equity Action Plan that called for embedding equity in all SPU work. By 2016, SPU launched Branch Equity Teams to support this commitment. This new focus includes aligning RSJI with the business needs of the branch, and ensuring that supervisors and managers lend their staff out as Branch Equity and Change Team members. Branch Equity and Change Team members serve three-year terms with an average annual commitment of 100 hours per person. There are currently 77 staff serving on branch equity teams, and 14 staff serving on the new change team. EJSE has also expanded its community partner program to better orient community partners to utility business. This program provides training, tours of facilities, and key messages on utility priorities, as well as creating greater flexibility in contracts so that other work groups can utilize community partner services.

Geographic Scale:
Type of Organization:
Government Agency
Pillar 2
Approach to Advancing Water Equity:
Policy Development and Advocacy
Issues Addressed:
Neighborhood Revitalization