Water Equity Clearinghouse

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)


Founded February 12, 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest, and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world serve as advocates for civil rights in their communities, campaigning for equal opportunity and conducting voter mobilization. The organization has branches and chapters in every state in the Union, including prison branches as well as military base branches abroad.

The NAACP’s principal objective is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of minority group citizens in the United States, and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination, in whatever form they take. Focus areas include health, economics, education, criminal justice, and environmental and climate justice

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

The NAACP’s work on issues related to water largely fall under the environmental and climate justice program. Foci have included:

1) Water infrastructure, including revenue, waste water, and storm water management;

2) Governance, including privatization, public utility/service commissions, etc.;

3) Water access and affordability, including costs, shut-off policies, etc. 4) Water quality, including contamination from infrastructure corrosion, industrial waste/pollution, fisheries contamination, wetlands/watershed threats, etc.; and

5) Flood mitigation including storm water management, sea level rise, etc.

Because of the breadth of NAACP communities and the sheer diversity of differential experiences across geographies, the NAACP has dealt with water systems and advanced water equity in myriad ways:

Framing: Using its visibility, sheer size, and influence, through organizing and strategic communications, the NAACP works toward shifting framing, echoing and amplifying the language of frontline groups, including the following:

1) Water Is Life: Dominant frame in the actions around Standing Rock organizing and beyond. Most compelling universal frame because it puts in plain, irrefutable terms that water is essential for our very existence.

2) Water as a Human Right: We are working with the US Human Rights Network, the Unitarian Universalists, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water to advance this framing and measures to establish water as the commons that no one should be denied.

3) Intersectionality of Water and ALL: Our intersectional framing as the NAACP is fairly unique because of the breadth and depth of our civil rights agenda. This is something we uniquely bring to the movement and organizing, and it is value added for our work in inserting equity into the work of water focused coalitions and otherwise.

Field Building with National State, and Local Entities in Water: In driving the three intersecting framing lenses above with the breadth of the NAACP constituency, the NAACP is increasingly helping lead a people-defined agenda on water preservation, conservation, access, and affordability, by providing guidance and input to philanthropy, non-profits, state and city planners, and others, as it relates to equity measures in water work. We have developed partnership exchanges to gain technical knowledge and resources, and provide partners with an increased equity lens around sea level rise and disaster resilience with key partners including: Climate Central, NOAA, FEMA, and the American Red Cross, with planned increased interventions with the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Advocacy for Policy, Regulatory, and Structural Reform:

Democratizing Decision Making: The NAACP has created a guidance document and trained its membership on “Engaging with Public Utility/Public Service Commissions” to encourage frontline leaders to integrate PUCs/PSCs into their civic engagement campaigns, from voter education to candidate education.

Policy Platform: The NAACP is working within the Public Water Collaborative on developing an equity-based People’s Water Platform that takes into account the myriad intersectional issues and defines water rights around preservation, conservation, safety, access, and affordability.

InfrastructureBudget Tracking and Accountability: ONE VOICE/MS NAACP are advancing a Budget Tracking and Accountability initiative to trace and document funding allocated for water infrastructure that has been diverted, with an aim of redirecting this revenue back to its original purpose, in order to strengthen water systems in the Southern states and in poor communities.

InfrastructureLocal Ownership and Control: Includes information on models for community/public ownership of water utilities, drawing from existing models such as FLOW (For the Love of Water).

Infrastructure—Expanding Decision Making Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis: As a result of the discovery of the Army Corps of Engineers’ system for prioritizing levee fortification based on property values alone, we are looking at this issue closely and forming an advocacy plan for ensuring that these life-preserving infrastructure projects are equitably administered.

Equity Analyses/Research Studies/Issue Briefs: The NAACP has integrated content on how units and others can evaluate equity in various aspects of water systems, and what actions they can take in ensuring that there is equity in water preservation, conservation, access, and affordability in the following documents:

1) Flooding, Flood Plains, and Flood Insurance;

2) Water Sustainability and Resilience; 3)

Equity in Emergency Management;

4) Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment and Planning;

5)Environmental and Climate Justice General Toolkit; and

6) Equity in Resilience Building in Climate Adaptation.

Addressing Incident Specific Threats/Assaults: The NAACP has convened stakeholders and developed equity analyses and action plans on multiple water related disasters including the BP oil drilling disaster, the landfill contamination of water supply in Dickson, TN, the Flint Water Crisis, Milwaukee lead contamination, the Calumet housing project toxic crisis, and more.

Paving Black-Green Pathways:

Education: Through “Teaching Environmental Justice in the Classroom Resource Guide” the NAACP has increased understanding of water and environmental justice in classrooms from elementary school through high school, including the connection with STEM studies.

Training: Ensuring that youth and others know of training opportunities in areas such as storm water management.

Workforce Development: Partnering with unions and others for workforce development projects around water.

Technology Charrettes: Hosting technology charrettes through our ACT-SO program, to utilize the genius of our youth in unique problem-solving opportunities that remedy challenges and expose the youth to new career paths.