An Equitable Water Future - A National Briefing Paper

From the U.S. Water Alliance, An Equitable Water Future explores the implications of water supply stress and management on vulnerable or disadvantaged communities and discusses the opportunities to build more equitable water systems. The report identifies the ways in which water issues like affordability and aging infrastructure disproportionately impact vulnerable communities, and highlights the potential to leverage water systems to build water equity. The Alliance determined that the focal elements to building water equity are to ensure that all people have access to safe, clean water; benefit from water infrastructure investments; and are climate resilient. There are over 100 examples and detailed case studies in the report that highlight the best practices occurring around the country which address these 3 “pillars of water equity.”

Part One: Water Stress and Vulnerable Communities describes the critical challenges facing the water sector and how they impact the most vulnerable communities. The report suggests that vulnerable communities that face various forms of water stress are “held back from full participation in the economy,” therefore lowering productivity and competitiveness. The challenges or impacts to the water system that are described include: Aging and inadequate infrastructure, Lack of infrastructure, Affordability, Fragmentation, Water Quality, Climate Impacts, Flooding, Siting of hazards (regarding the siting of hazardous facilities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color creating health disparities), and engaging Public participation. 

Identify which water stresses are present in your community. 

From this analysis, there are a number of Climate impacts discussed:

  • Climate change threatens water systems that were designed for conditions that no longer exist - notably, predictable snow and rainfall patterns and steady sea levels.
  • Extreme storms such as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Sandy which broke historical records and overwhelmed existing infrastructure.
  • There is evidence that changing temperatures are increasing the frequency, unpredictability, and destructive force of wildfires, hurricanes, and rainstorms.
  • Sea level rise, combined with land subsidence, makes storms more destructive and puts coastal areas at risk of permanent inundation.

Part Two, the Pillars of Water Equity, is a framework to advance water equity in America, organized around three areas where progress is occurring:

1. Ensure all people have access to clean, safe, affordable water service;

2. Maximize the community and economic benefits of water infrastructure investment; and

3. Foster community resilience in the face of a changing climate.

This resource was featured in the June 29, 2017, ASAP Newsletter.

"This briefing paper by the U.S. Water Alliance examines the connections between water management practices and the outlook for vulnerable communities across the United States. Drawing on sources from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, the paper proposes the Pillars of Water Equity, a framework by which communities may achieve resilience through investments in infrastructure for clean, safe, and affordable water."

The report details adaptation strategies to help meet these water equity goals. Regarding water access issues, some affordability strategies are delineated. For example, the report describes how some utilities are incorporating affordability considerations into their rate structures -  such as alternative rate structures like inclining block rates and income-qualified rates, which can promote long-term affordability for low-income residents. Utilities can also lower their overall rates by increasing their operating efficiency, reducing water loss, optimizing water sources, and, potentially, consolidating or regionalizing utility operations.

Here are a few of the inspiring case studies from the report:

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is undertaking an $80 million project that will remove the concrete that runs along the river and replace it with a more resilient alternative, reducing flood risk for the surrounding area and creating new green space.

The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans climate planning considers how to leverage its response to environmental challenges to make New Orleans a stronger, more equitable city. This includes using investment in climate adaptation to connect vulnerable communities to economic opportunity.

Catalyst Miami, a community organization that provides social services like health coaching and financial planning, is engaging vulnerable communities in climate initiatives. The organization offers a course that prepares residents to participate in the climate planning process - which provides an overview of the effects of climate change in Miami; reviews adaptation strategies from around the country; and offers public speaking training for residents to prepare them to effectively communicate with public officials.



Publication Date: June 6, 2017

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  • Assessment
  • Best practice
  • Case study


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