I’ll admit I did not know what to expect when I booked a trip to Minneapolis to attend the U.S. Water Council’s One Water Summit in July. I knew about the one water movement and understood what it means, what it is and how it connects to my job—after all, my colleagues at Storm Water Solutions and Water Quality Products collaborated with me on a podcast dedicated to one water: Talking Under Water. But I elected to use the summit as a platform to learn and better understand it.
It was clear from the first session I attended that this would be a different conference than anything else I have attended in this industry. For one thing, the attendance for this show was the most diverse group I’ve seen at a water industry event, and frankly that was really refreshing. Having perspectives from so many angles—many from which I rarely hear—made the sessions and panels highly engaging and interesting.
The biggest undercurrent and theme of the conference was water equity and affordability, a topic I feel we do not cover enough in this magazine. Water equity translates access to water into a human rights issue; access to clean drinking water should not be diminished by the color of one’s skin, where they live or how much money they make. In addition to explaining water equity, several panels at the One Water Summit discussed the strategies for instituting policies and programs that ensure water equity in their communities, with speakers from Cleveland and Milwaukee, among others.
It is one thing to ensure access to water is available to everybody; it is another to ensure it also is affordable, especially for those who are the most marginalized and disadvantaged in society. When people think about those without water, they tend to externalize it in terms of proximity: “That happens in Africa,” or, “That’s an issue in regions of South America.” What the average person fails to see is that it is happening right here in the U.S., often not far from where you live.
Addressing affordability is a difficult task and requires intentional strategies and programs. Programs that reduce water bills for those with low income are common in major cities, but the people who need them most rarely know they exist. Direct communication with community partners and community champions seems to be a linchpin. But it is not enough to just listen to their needs and say, “I hear you.” We need to incorporate their feedback into the system so it is more than a check of a box on a form. It is not an easy process. It can be exhausting and fatiguing. But we owe it to our neighbors and our communities to address it. You can’t have one water without one equity.
If you have a program through your utility that addresses water equity and maintains affordability, let me know with an email to [email protected]. I would love to learn more about your public outreach efforts.