By Radhika Fox, CEO, US Water Alliance

November 21, 2019

I’m proud to share a new report from the US Water Alliance, in partnership with DigDeep and Michigan State University, Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan.
Over the last three years, the US Water Alliance has been on a journey to understand how water systems affect vulnerable people and to advance more equitable water management practices. We developed a national framework and highlighted promising practices. Building on that framework, we launched the Seven-City Water Equity Taskforce, an initiative that brings together utilities and community leaders to collaboratively respond to challenges like aging infrastructure, affordability, workforce inclusion, and water quality.
When we developed our water equity framework, one number stuck in my mind: that two million people in the United States still lack basic access to running water and indoor plumbing. As someone who spent my early childhood in rural India, it was unthinkable to me that in America, a nation of such abundance, so many people are still living without the basics.
In response this challenge, the US Water Alliance has produced the most comprehensive report to date on the water access challenge, using data analysis and on-the-ground research to understand the numbers and accelerate promising solutions. We were proud to team up with DigDeep, an organization that won the US Water Prize in 2018 for their success in bringing water service to hundreds of families on the Navajo Nation, and with researchers at Michigan State University. And, as with everything we do, we brought in a circle of partners. We formed a National Advisory Council of leaders from sectors including water, equity, technology, and community development to guide our work.
Through this research, we found that more than two million Americans live without access to running water, indoor plumbing, and safe sanitation. Federal data doesn’t accurately measure the challenge, and data collection has been cut back in recent years. We found that communities of color are more likely to lack water access than white communities, and that the disparity is particularly extreme for Native Americans. Poverty is also a key barrier to water access. These challenges are the result of historical and geographical factors that have left entire communities without adequate services.
In response, we’ve crafted a four-part action plan to solve this challenge:
Reimagine the Solution: Define water access as a crisis, provide interim solutions, and develop alternative to traditional infrastructure
Deploy Resources Strategically: Expand federal funding, create funding options for private wells and septic systems, and build a domestic WASH sector
Build Community Power: Use data to bring visibility to the challenge, support community-led water governance, and build relationships between impacted communities
Foster Creative Collaboration: Support system consolidation, leverage private sector expertise, and design multi-benefit solutions
All stakeholders have a role to play in extending water access to everyone in this country. I encourage you to read this report and learn more about our findings and recommendations. And I’d love to hear from you about your work on these issues, or what role the Alliance can play in helping to close the water access gap in our lifetime.