Click here to read the paper. Here’s an excerpt:
Water is the defining issue of our time—it has been steadily rising as a top-of-mind concern for community, business, and political leaders across the globe. In fact, the World Economic Forum identifies water crises as one of the greatest risks we face in this decade. Water shapes economic growth, the environment, and the very social fabric of our communities. Ensuring that all people have access to safe, reliable, and affordable water and wastewater systems is the cornerstone of a sustainable and prosperous nation.
This national briefing paper examines the interconnections between water management and vulnerable communities in the United States. Too often, when we think of vulnerable communities that struggle with water-related challenges, we think of places like sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and other developing regions. The overall high quality of water systems in America—one of our most monumental achievements as a nation—obscures the fact that water challenges are a daily reality for some communities.
All people need access to the basics—-water, food, shelter– in order to participate fully in society. When these basic conditions are met, our communities and our economy thrive. Water systems that do not deliver clean, affordable water to all people can exacerbate inequality and undermine our nation’s future prosperity. Vulnerable communities that face various forms of water stress are held back from full participation in the economy, lowering productivity and competitiveness. Moreover, as water utilities work to fund the maintenance and operations of their systems, they need financially stable ratepayers.
The good news is that progress is happening on multiple fronts. A range of stakeholders are pioneering equitable and inclusive approaches to water management. Public and private utilities are implementing low-income assistance programs and workforce development strategies, as well as utilizing capital projects to foster neighborhood revitalization. Community-based organizations are building local capacity to engage in water planning and policy making, nurturing a new generation of leaders. Environmental organizations are incorporating community considerations into their ecological work. A growing number of philanthropic organizations are bringing equitable water strategies into their investment portfolios. Businesses are engaging in efforts to restore watersheds and enrich the communities in which they operate. Investors are redefining risk and considering the resilience of communities when contemplating infrastructure investments. Research institutions are partnering with communities to shine a light on the complex interconnections between water, climate, and socioeconomic vulnerability.
The US Water Alliance developed this briefing paper to expand national understanding of the water-related challenges that vulnerable communities face. This paper is inspired and informed by the contributions of diverse stakeholders—utility managers, policymakers, community leaders, advocacy coalitions, direct service providers, and more. It spotlights the promising practices that have emerged to make water systems more equitable, and offers recommendations for their implementation. The audiences we address and the scope of topics we tackle in this paper are intentionally broad. At the US Water Alliance, we believe that all stakeholders have a vital role to play in securing an equitable water future for all.
The report is organized in the following manner:
• Part One: Water Stress and Vulnerable Communities describes the critical challenges facing the water sector and how they impact vulnerable communities; and
• Part Two: The Pillars of Water Equity describes promising practices and strategies in three key arenas showcasing the diverse ways that organizations can advance water equity in the US.