Water Equity Clearinghouse

Explanation of Terms

The Water Equity Clearinghouse uses the following terms to categorize the work of the organizations it showcases. 

Type of Organization

This category refers to the structure of the organization and gives the user an idea of its primary function.

Government agency
Nonprofit entity
Private sector
Research entity

Geographic Scale

The groups featured in the clearinghouse range from national-level organizations with projects in multiple locations to neighborhood groups that work at a very local level.



In our recently released national briefing paper, An Equitable Water Future, we describe the challenges and opportunities around water faced by vulnerable communities. The paper is structured around three pillars of water equity: areas where progress is being forged, and where there is enormous potential to make our water systems more equitable. 

Pillar 1: Ensure all people have access to clean, safe, affordable water service.
Pillar 2: Maximize the community and economic benefits of water infrastructure investment.
Pillar 3: Foster community resilience in the face of a changing climate.

To read a more detailed explanation of these pillars, click here. To read the full report, click here.


Vulnerable communities face historic or contemporary barriers to economic and social opportunities and a healthy environment. The principal factors in community vulnerability are income, race or ethnicity, age, language ability, and geographic location. Vulnerable communities may include the following groups:

Communities of color
Immigrant communities
Indigenous communities
Limited English proficiency
Lower-income communities
People with disabilities

Approaches to Advancing Water Equity

The following categories represent promising approaches to making our water systems more equitable:

Capacity building/Education: Capacity building refers to activities that increase the ability of a community or organization to work effectively on their focus areas. This can be anything from leadership trainings to strategy workshops to educational programs.

Community organizing: Community organizing refers to activities that mobilize communities around certain issues to raise a collective voice and influence changes in policies and laws.

Direct service: Direct service organizations implement projects that directly provide access to resources, services, and infrastructure. This can range from delivering water to people’s homes, to building stormwater infrastructure to mitigate flooding, to installing wells and cisterns.

Funding and finance: Providing grants, financing, loans and other forms of financial support for water projects and initiatives.

Legal: Refers to a broad set of approaches that utilize the law to advance equitable approaches to water management.

Planning: Utilities, cities, states, and regions create plans on how they will manage their water resources, investments in infrastructure, and more. Community-based organizations may also create plans around water management.

Policy development and advocacy: This refers to activities to craft, advance, and advocate for policies that promote equitable water management. This can be undertaken at the local, regional, state, and federal levels.

Research and technical assistance: This refers to activities such as research, data, and technical assistance to advance equitable water management. Technical assistance is often provided by larger groups to smaller groups, but can also be peer-to-peer approaches.

Issues Addressed

The following categories represent the issue areas related to water equity:

Access to water services: Many vulnerable communities cannot access water services due to lack of infrastructure or inadequate infrastructure.

Affordability: While water services are generally affordable, the lowest 20% of earners pay almost one-fifth of their monthly household income for water. This can lead to water shutoffs and other negative impacts.

Climate adaptation and mitigation: Vulnerable communities are often the hardest hit by the impacts of a changing climate, including flooding, drought, sea level rise, and extreme storms.

Green infrastructure: Low-cost, high-impact technologies like bioswales, rain gardens, and green roofs are used to address flooding, stormwater treatment, and water storage. 

Local and small business development: By extending bids and contracting with small, minority-owned, women-owned, or otherwise disadvantaged businesses, utilities can take steps towards developing robust local economies.

Neighborhood revitalization: Vulnerable populations often live in areas devoid of green spaces and healthy recreational spaces. Water projects that bring benefits like parks and greenery help improve quality of life for these neighborhoods.

Water quality: In some parts of the country, drinking water is compromised by heavy metals (including lead and uranium), agricultural and industrial runoff, and untreated wastewater.

Workforce development: By providing job trainings, apprenticeships, and skill building opportunities to low-income and otherwise disadvantaged people, organizations can create successful career pathways in the water sector.