Recovering Stronger: State Innovations—Midwest Region: Expanding Possibilities
After a devastating year following the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, signs of hope are beginning to shine through. The Alliance convened the Recovering Stronger Midwest Listening Session against the backdrop of the vaccine rollout and the release of the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan, which includes a historic $111 billion for water infrastructure investment. With the introduction of this plan, the water sector is seeing new partnership emerging at the federal level, after decades of disinvestment.
What We Heard in the Midwest:
- In Ohio, Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan, launched in 2013, seeks to advance social and racial equity while building resilience to climate impacts. With support from the 90-member Climate Action Advisory Committee and the 300 resident leaders who participated in workshops throughout the city, Cleveland updated the Climate Action Plan in 2018. Cleveland’s Climate Action Fund is one mechanism that supports the priorities laid out in the plan.
- In Minnesota, Governor Tim Waltz issued Executive Order 19-37 in December 2019, which names climate change as an “existential threat that impacts all Minnesotans and our ability to thrive.” The Executive Order also establishes the Climate Change Subcabinet to identify policies and strategies that will enhance climate resiliency throughout the state.
- Also in Minnesota, the state House and Senate introduced HF 1445 and SF 1746, which outline a proposal allocating $2.9 million over two years for a climate resiliency program run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. If passed into law, the funding will provide grants paid to cities, town, and tribal nations for climate risk assessment, planning, and pre-design needs for upgrading stormwater infrastructure.
- In Illinois, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the Utility Billing Relief (UBR) Program in July 2020 to help residents struggling to afford their water bills. While further solutions are needed to support renters, the program uses Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) eligibility to enroll homeowners. The UBR Program provides participants with reduced water and sewer rates and grants debt relief to residents that demonstrate an ability to pay their bills at the reduced rate for one year.
- In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine announced the Home Grant Relief Program, which provides Ohioans assistance with rent, mortgage, and utilities—including water and sewer bills. The program started in 2020 with a $50 million allocation made available because of CARES Act funding. $100 million more was set aside in February 2021. The funds have been distributed to community action agencies (CAA), and residents apply for assistance through the CAAs.
- In Michigan, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department extended the water shutoff moratorium through 2022. Community based organizations, like We the People of Detroit, have been instrumental in pushing for this reform.
- In Minnesota, the Pollution Control Agency is partnering with the MN Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division to apply for Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grants through FEMA. The BRIC program helps states, local communities, tribes, and territories undertake pre-disaster mitigation projects. The program also funds capacity building activities.
- WaterFunder developed the Project Readiness Bridge Loan Program to help distressed communities meet state and federal funding requirements. In many cases, vulnerable communities do not have the resources to undertake the process of applying for government funding. The Bridge Loan Program funds design, engineering, pre-construction, and advisory services needed for communities to demonstrate eligibility for longer-term funding for water infrastructure projects.
- In Minnesota, Governor Walz issued Executive Order 19-24 which calls for all state agencies to consult with each Minnesota Tribal Nation to identify priority issues. The Executive Order also institutes the Tribal State Relations Training (TSRT) program. The Tribal-State Advisory Group on American Indian Training and Consultation, which includes members of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and White Earth Nation, leads the implementation of the program. The program’s stated mission is to empower “authentic and respectful relationships between state agencies and American Indian tribes.”
- In Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio, the City of Ames, the City of Cedar Rapids, Illinois Soybean Association, Ohio Corn & Wheat, Ohio Soybean Council, and Quantified Ventures are partnering together through the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund. The fund provides financial incentives to farmers who transition to on-farm conservation practices by selling environment outcomes.
- In Ohio, the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative (OACI) developed a voluntary certification program for farmers implementing best management practices. OACI is a collaborative effort among agricultural, environmental, and academic stakeholders that allows a diverse group of partners to collect data and learn what practices and tools are most successful, which benefits both the state and growers.
- In Wisconsin, the PFAS Action Council (WisPAC), a group of nearly 20 state agencies, developed a comprehensive PFAS Action Plan, published in December 2020. To receive public input on the Action Plan, WisPAC conducted a survey, created an advisory group, and held public meetings. The creation of the Action Council and subsequent Action Plan followed Governor Tony Evers’ Executive Order #40, which called for a multi-agency PFAS Action Plan for the state.
- In Michigan, the Flint Community Water Lab is the first community-based laboratory of its kind and provides Flint residents with a trusted resource for free water testing. In addition to supporting the Flint Community Water Lab, Freshwater Future partnered with local organizations to launch the Youth Water Testing Program, which trains teens to collect tap water samples for testing.
- In Ohio, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s combined sewer overflow consent decree, known as Project Clean Lake, outlines $3 billion of investments that will reduce the amount of pollution entering our Great Lake. This includes significant investment in green infrastructure to store stormwater before it makes its way to the combined sewer system.