By Kara Butler, Program Associate, US Water Alliance

January 29, 2020

The Water Equity Taskforce’s capstone convening took place last week in Camden, NJ. This gathering of 80 utility, community and environmental nonprofit, city government, and philanthropy partners concluded the Alliance’s two-year collaborative project with seven cities (Atlanta, Buffalo, Camden, Cleveland, Louisville, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh). City teams shared insights from their partnerships and progress towards building equitable approaches to water management and discussed their commitments and plans for expanding water equity in their cities and throughout the country.

To kick off this final Water Equity Learning Exchange, members of the Camden Learning Team took attendees on a journey through their city and the work that they have been focusing on over the past two years. American Water and Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) gave tours of their treatment plants, and trainees from PowerCorps, a workforce development program formed out of the partnership between Center for Family Services and CCMUA, shared their experiences. The tour was ended at Phoenix Park, a riverfront park project created by CCMUA to provide a recreational space for the community in place of the abandoned factory that stood in its place.

During the Learning Exchange, each of the seven cities presented their achievements and reflections on the process of working with one another in cross-sector teams. One theme throughout the event was how to sustain and grow what they’ve begun moving forward.

To offer reflections on that question, Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder of PolicyLink and host of the Radical Imagination podcast, presented and facilitated discussion on how teams can build long-term, sustainable partnerships between the community, utility, and local government, and expand on the progress in water equity that has been made thus far. Race Forward, a nonprofit committed to advancing the conversation and action for racial equity, also facilitated a workshop on centering racial equity goals and tactics in this work and provided tools to continue incorporating racial equity in the next phase.

The Water Equity Taskforce was the first-ever cross-sector, multi-city endeavor to intentionally make water management outcomes and processes equitable. Now that this two-year project with these first seven cities is coming to a close, city teams discussed the strategies and obstacles they envision for the next phase of their work in water equity and made their individual commitments to working toward this vision.

True progress towards an equitable One Water future can only be made through sharing knowledge and supporting the diverse voices that make this work possible. Teams tackled a range of issues—affordability, water quality, access to decision making processes, workforce diversity, and more—and demonstrated that cross-sector partnerships can lead to more equitable approaches and outcomes. The US Water Alliance is grateful to all Water Equity Taskforce members and excited and hopeful about spreading equitable approaches to water management to places across the country.