The Pillars of Water Equity
The term equity refers to just and fair inclusion—a condition in which everyone has an opportunity to participate and prosper. At the US Water Alliance we believe that water equity occurs when all communities:
- Have access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water and wastewater services;
- Share in the economic, social, and environmental benefits of water systems; and
- Are resilient in the face of floods, drought, and other climate risks.
Below we describe these three pillars of water equity, and for a more in-depth discussion read our recently released national briefing paper here.
While most people in this country are provided with safe, reliable, affordable, water and wastewater services 24/7, there are millions of people who lack access. Some areas have never had adequate water and wastewater infrastructure, and others struggle with aging systems, unaffordable rates, and poor water quality. Other areas lack access to clean lakes, rivers, and beaches that provide free, healthy public spaces and leisure activities. Vulnerable communities without other recreational options are particularly affected when water bodies and coastlines are threatened.
Creating an equitable water future means providing all people with access to clean, safe water at a price they can afford. To achieve this, collaboration and co-investment by all levels of government, water providers, the private sector, community-based organizations, and others is critical.
While nature provides water, it takes pipes, pumps, and people working 24/7 to deliver clean water to homes and businesses, and to remove and treat wastewater. The infrastructure we rely on is aging and in need of renewal. Across the country, utilities are investing billions of dollars to address America’s water infrastructure crisis and bring systems to a state of good repair.
As utilities undertake capital projects they can advance water equity at every stage of the process. The water sector provides solid, living-wage jobs that are excellent stepping stones to the middle class. Tremendous potential exists to leverage water investments for local employment and career pathways, business development and contracting opportunities, educational programs, and neighborhood improvements. Partnering with community-based organizations, nonprofits, labor unions, and philanthropic organizations can maximize these outcomes.
The impacts of a changing climate are often experienced as water challenges. Changing precipitation patterns due to rising temperatures create droughts in some areas and floods in others. Heavy rainfall overburdens stormwater systems, flooding homes and neighborhoods. Extreme storms damage coastal communities and waterfronts. Lower-income communities are often the most vulnerable in the face of a changing climate. They are more likely to live in low-quality housing, lack insurance, and have fewer resources to rebuild and recover.
Climate planning at the utility, city, regional, and state level is key to preparing for the water impacts of climate change. As government agencies develop climate action plans, incorporating equity concerns into planning, funding, and implementation can create more resilient communities.