An Equitable Water Future: Opportunities for the Great Lakes Region 

The U.S. Water Alliance has investigated water assets and systems in the Great Lakes region, and the equitable management of these assets. The report describes climate change impacts on water resources, along with other equity issues such as failing infrastructure, affordability, and workforce inclusion. Opportunities for the region to adapt the water sector, and detailed strategies provide a framework for making these water systems more inclusive.

This report builds on the Alliance’s national briefing paper, also entitled An Equitable Water Future, which outlined recommendations, policies and programs to foster equitable water management in the U.S. This companion report highlights the strategies that are most significant and relevant to the Great Lakes region.

The report focuses on nine priority issues that vulnerable communities in the region are facing - with a set of strategies to advance water equity. Each strategy is detailed with specific actions, and further illustrated by local case studies that demonstrate effective work already underway.

  1. Improve levels of service among struggling utilities
  2. Create comprehensive approaches to addressing affordability
  3. Develop transparent, multi-faceted approaches to addressing lead in water
  4. Prepare equitable emergency plans for water crises
  5. Support capacity-building of tribal governments on water issues
  6. Build an inclusive water workforce
  7. Expand opportunities for small, minority-, and women-owned businesses in the water sector
  8. Ensure that equity concerns are central to climate planning and investment
  9. Leverage water improvements to bring multiple benefits to disinvested areas

Each strategy is built out with relevant Key Issues, Promising Approaches, and a Case Study. These are paraphrased here for the strategy to “Expand opportunities for small, minority-, and women-owned businesses in the water sector” as an example:

Key Issues: There are some barriers to the participation of small, minority- and women-owned businesses in water sector projects. For example, larger companies and contractors may have insurance requirements that are difficult for smaller companies to meet. Some of these small businesses lack the upfront access to bonding, insurance, and capital to take on large capital projects, and they may have difficulty navigating government processes.

Promising Approaches: Water utilities can support economic growth in vulnerable communities by creating contracting opportunities for local, small, minority-, and women-owned businesses along the supply chain. Or, for example, they can work with other companies and nonprofits along the supply chain to remove barriers for these minority businesses by creating business incubators or offering low-interest small business loans.

Case Study: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is actively building the capacity of local, small, veteran-, minority-, and women-owned businesses to participate in district and city projects, and intends to increase the number of minorities and women in management and leadership positions. To encourage participation in contracting, the utility has established procurement goals of 13% for minority-owned businesses, 5% for small and veteran-owned businesses, and 2% for women-owned businesses. In 2013, MMSD awarded contracts or subcontracts totaling $9.9 million, or 25.2 percent of all procurement awards to these businesses.


Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Related Organizations:

  • U.S. Water Alliance


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study

States Affected:


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