Seattle Public Utilities - Utility Discount Program

In recent years, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), which is the city’s water utility and provides drinking water and wastewater treatment, has strongly emphasized community engagement and equity issues through the creation of a variety of organizations and programs. One organization, Connect Capital, which is comprised of SPU staff and members of a community foundation and a community organization, advises SPU on how to ensure that the benefits of future  investments are equitable and address climate threats to those at risk of displacement. One result of Connect Capital’s encouragement is SPU’s investment in infrastructure in frontline communities, such as the South Park Neighborhood. Another equitable initiative under SPU is the Utility Discount Program, under which seniors, persons with disabilities, and low-income customers receive a reduction in their water and electricity bills. Households with incomes at or below 70% of state median income pay only 50% of their SPU bill. Further still, SPU’s Environmental Justice and Service Equity Division aims to promote inclusive community engagement and collaboration.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) strives to provide efficient and forward-looking utility services to City residents. SPU collaborates with the scientific community and water utilities locally, nationally, and internationally to enhance its knowledge of potential climate impacts and capacity to prepare. Climate adaptation measures under consideration by SPU include:

  • Physical modifications to structures
  • Changing the operation of infrastructure to reflect changing conditions
  • Embedding climate information into asset management and decision-making tools
  • Incentivizing changes in water consumption behavior
  • Developing early-warning systems for urban flooding
  • Amending or implementing new codes and policies

The Environmental Justice and Service Equity Division of Seattle Public Utilities engages communities of color, immigrants and refugees, customers with low income, and customers with limited English proficiency as partners and collaborators to improve Seattle’s quality of life. SPU's primary strategies include:

  1. Embed race, social justice, and service equity policies and practices across the utility
  2. Model and advocate for inclusive community engagement within the utility in partnership with communities
  3. Further align division efforts within SPU, as well as city, county, and community efforts

These strategies are accomplished through three major program areas:

  • Environmental Justice Network in Action fosters partnerships with Seattle’s many diverse communities.
  • The Women and Minority Business Enterprise program helps businesses connect with SPU and get the tools they need to do business with government contracts.
  • Equity planning and analysis outlines how SPU participates in key decision-making processes and on project teams through the use of equity planning tools.

SPU has recently re-emphasized their commitment to incorporate equity into their climate resilience. SPU will be spending $100 million in the coming years on flooding and water quality in frontline communities. Connect Capital is advising SPU on how to better ensure that the benefits of the investments are equitable and address climate threats to those at risk of displacement. To do so, SPU is investing in infrastructure in the South Park neighborhood that will make this frontline community more resilient. This neighborhood in South Seattle faces risks from extreme rain events and long-term risks from sea level rise. One of the projects SPU has spearheaded is the installation of a pump station to mitigate stormwater flooding in the South Park neighborhood.

SPU engages in collaborative activities through the Water Utility Climate Alliance, National Climate Assessment, Climate Impacts Research Consortium, Northwest Regional Modeling Consortium, and Climate Impacts Group of the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. 

Publication Date: 2020

Related Organizations:

Related Toolkits:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Case study
  • Education/training materials
  • Engagement
  • Funding program
  • Project

States Affected:


Go To Resource