A Basic Human Right to Water Access

Feb. 25, 2021

Water as a human right results in positive economic outcomes


About the author:

Denise Venuti Free is director of communications and external affairs for the Eastern Division of American Water. Free also participated in the US Water Alliance’s Camden Water Equity Task Force, which works to align the resources of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to advance equity and inclusion in Camden through smart water management. Free can be reached at [email protected].


It’s no secret that there are many challenges impacting the U.S. and one often forgotten piece of the puzzle is the access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water. Safe and affordable water is essential to everyone, especially during the public health emergency where there has been an increased focus on hygiene. That said, water access as a whole is not available in the necessary quantity and quality around the world as needed, and we all must work together to eliminate this inequity.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly ruled that access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right. Since that time, utilities across the country have been investing time and money so that all communities have access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water and wastewater services. It’s imperative that water and wastewater leaders make water equity a priority today.

Access to Safe, Reliable & Affordable Water Service

When we think about water equity, it’s important to understand that the concept is heavily rooted in helping provide every community with safe and affordable water access. Everyone deserves the opportunity to prosper and when we all have the same access to water, communities are able to withstand potential crises like floods, droughts or climate variability by sharing the economic, social and environmental benefits of quality water systems. 

Using Imagine a Day without Water as an annual touchstone each October, it’s critically important that we do what we can so that all communities have the same access to high quality water whenever possible. While that can be facilitated with municipalities and utilities working together to solve these problems, there is a greater underlying issue that’s been worsening for decades: the aging state of our collective water infrastructure

Solving Our Country’s Infrastructure Problem 

According to a report released last fall by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Value of Water Campaign, our nation’s water infrastructure is in desperate need of investment as current systems are aging — so much so, in fact, that a water main breaks in this country at least every two minutes. Not to mention the gap between spending and necessary funding is growing (currently at $81 billion). 

If the nation continues to underinvest in water infrastructure, these systems will continue to deteriorate, causing more ruptures, flooding, shutdowns and storm damage. The increase in failures will negatively impact businesses that rely on water and those who can’t afford to pay to have the pipes under the homes fixed. To address this underfunding issue, consider urging your municipality counterparts to increase efforts and funding around water infrastructure. 

However, if your organization is being funded to address infrastructure challenges, leverage the money to provide additional and diverse jobs in infrastructure work. This will address some of the glaring issues with our nation’s infrastructure and help stimulate the economy. Partnering with community-based organizations and nonprofits can also maximize these outcomes.

Water equity occurs when communities have access to safe, clean and reliable water and wastewater and can share in the benefits of these systems. In order to reach a place of water equity it’s imperative that the industry continues to maximize efforts to increase access to water and make investments to improve infrastructure.

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