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Thriving in Place Through Water Investment: Principles for Equitable Infrastructure

Emily Simonson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, US Water Alliance | February 24, 2022

Signed into law in 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is the largest federal investment in water infrastructure in 50 years—a vital down payment on investments long needed in water and for communities. This opportunity provides the water sector a moment to re-envision the power and possibilities of infrastructure investments. This is a moment to center water equity, climate action, economic opportunity, and One Water in water infrastructure and capital projects.    
 
The following Principles for Equitable Infrastructure Implementation provide some guidance for water and wastewater utilities, community partners, planners, engineers, architects, environmental justice leaders, educators, artists and culture bearers, and residents to work collaboratively to make the most of this moment.   


Principles for Equitable Infrastructure Implementation  

  • Prioritize community needs and ownership. Prioritize the needs of the most underserved. Build real partnerships so all groups have agency in the process, outcomes, and sustainability of the work.   
  • Partner for greater impact. Commit to collaboration and relationship-building. Look for combined impact across departments, sectors, communities, and regions. Plan and act regionally and with cross-sector partners for greater impact and lasting benefits.
  • Maximize economic opportunity. Center affordability and community wealth-building, as well as workforce development and livability in water infrastructure projects. Advance policies that minimize negative effects or displacement.
  • Protect the planet. Build programs and infrastructure that minimize greenhouse gas emissions and maximize carbon sequestration opportunities. Support strategies and decision-making using the best available data and trends in climate impacts, population, and demographics. Refine strategies and decisions as climate information evolves.
  • Embrace transparency and creativity. Share information openly and maintain transparent and accountable processes. Lean into experimentation and commit resources to unlock new ways of doing things that can outlast the finite IIJA investment opportunity.
  • Invest for the future and build in flexibility. Infrastructure investments are not equitable if they cannot ensure adequate and safe water services across generations. Design for the maximum climate projections and prioritize approaches that can adapt to changing realities and likely scenarios. 


Living these principles at each stage of capital project delivery and management 

As the historic federal investment in water infrastructure rolls out, the backlog of capital project needs is vast. According to the Value of Water Campaign, the need for water infrastructure investment over the next five years is $440 billion. The IIJA investment represents 12% of this overall need.  
 
With that extra funding, undoubtedly many communities will still need to prioritize traditional capital projects and models of project delivery. But we also see this extra funding as an opportunity to embrace a new culture of transformational investments and projects. By following these guiding principles in each stage of capital project delivery, the process of water investment and systems can evolve. The water sector can work to ensure equitable outcomes through project delivery and into ongoing operations, maintenance, and service equity, and live out the promise of a more sustainable water future for all. 


The Equitable Infrastructure Implementation Cycle

Each phase of infrastructure planning can benefit from the Principles for Equitable Infrastructure Implementation. These principles can be applied locally and regionally. At the US Water Alliance, we feel it is time to build these practices in water service—not just the five-year timeframe of IIJA investment, but for the long-term.  


Share your thoughts!  

Equitable infrastructure investment is only possible by working together and sharing ideas and best practices. The US Water Alliance invites you to share your thoughts on social media using #OneWater or submitting ideas directly to Emily Simonson, director of strategic initiatives, at esimonson@uswateralliance.org.   
 
This Introduction of Principles is part one of a four-part series on our new initiative, Equitable Infrastructure.