By Danielle Mayorga, US Water Alliance

July 27, 2017

A sustainable water future requires that all people have access to clean, safe, and affordable water and wastewater service. Across the United States, there are vulnerable communities who struggle with water contamination, affordability, and inadequate infrastructure. At the same time, smart and equitable water management can foster opportunity for all people and communities. Ensuing that all people have access to safe, reliable, and affordable water and wastewater systems is the cornerstone of sustainable water management and a prosperous nation. And across the nation, we are seeing progress taking place on multiple fronts as a range of stakeholders are pioneering equitable and inclusive approaches to water management.

One way to address growing concerns for affordability among low-income residents is to build a water safety net.  This will provide Americans with a basic level of access to safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water and wastewater service.  Addressing water affordability goes beyond discounts and assistance efforts.  Financially sustainable approaches can, and must, be developed to assure access to service without compromising utilities’ financial integrity.  Additionally, the causes of water safety issues must be resolved to ensure long-term, reliable access to water.  This is an imperative for public health and community well-being.

As utilities rebuild and maintain water systems, there is an opportunity to leverage these investments to maximize economic, environmental, and social gains, especially for historically under-served populations.  This includes workforce training, access to high-quality jobs with career pathways, contracting opportunities and catalyzing neighborhood improvements.  These strategies can enhance the local economy and the utility’s financial sustainability.

Fostering community resilience in the face of a changing climate is crucial to a sustainable water future for all.  Integrated water resource management and water infrastructure investment are essential to ensuring that communities are resilient in the face of more extreme and uncertain climate events.  As utilities and cities undertake water resilience strategies, planning for and making investments in a manner that protects disadvantaged communities is critical.  Environmental justice concerns must be considerations in how water-related climate investments are allocated.

Finally, enhancing community capacity to engage in water planning and governance can help secure a water future with long-term and meaningful engagement from the public.  Community organizations, nonprofits, academia, and utilities are finding ways to effectively engage local leaders in water infrastructure planning, communicating with decision-makers about local water challenges, and working to raise community-wide awareness and understanding of these issues.

As water quality and quantity issues persist around the country, it is imperative that the underrepresented members of the community are not left behind.  Building a water safety net, leveraging water investments to generate community benefits, fostering community resilience in the face of climate change, and enhancing community capacity to engage in water planning and governance are all promising strategies for building a sustainable water future for all. Through equitable and sustainable water management, we can increase social and economic inclusion.

Recognizing the need to articulate a framework for how to advancing inclusive water management, the US Water Alliance has embarked upon a new project—An Equitable Water Futurerelated to this arena for action. Under this project, the Alliance recently released a national briefing paper on the challenges, opportunities, and promising practice related to equitable water management. Inspired by the case studies outlined in the paper, our next blog series will spotlight ways that utilities, businesses, environmental nonprofits, and community-based organizations are advancing an equitable and secure water future. Stay tuned!