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Summit on Water Infrastructure Investments Draws ECC Delegation -- Water infrastructure Issues Resonate with ECC’s Focus on Equity Inclusion

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With ECC increasingly addressing the energy-water nexus and working to ensure that water infrastructure investments equitably benefit low-income communities of color, a group of ECC board and staff members attended the US Water Alliance’s recent One Water Summit 2017. Comprising one of 25 delegations to the summit, they brought ECC’s focus on equity inclusion in the green economy to discussions on maximizing the community and economic benefits of water infrastructure investments

Photos by Bernie SaulDuring the summit’s closing plenary, ECC President and CEO Denise Fairchild discussed ECC’s commitment to collaborate with the Alliance on a water equity strategy. As a first step, ECC will use the Alliance’s briefing paper, An Equitable Water Future, to craft such a strategy for the Emerald Cities network.

That briefing paper set the stage for the summit, noting that “water is essential to prosperity and progress,” and that “smart and equitable water management can foster opportunity for all people and communities.” However, it continued, “The sad reality is that water challenges disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in America.”

An Equitable Water Future
The briefing paper – which was informed by both formal research and discussions with more than 125 thought leaders, including Fairchild – opens by stating, “Water is the defining issue of our time…Water shapes economic growth, the environment and the very social fabric of our communities.

Ensuring that all people have access to safe, reliable and affordable water and wastewater systems is the cornerstone of a sustainable and prosperous nation.” The 64-page document is divided into two sections, the first looking at water stress and vulnerable communities and the second section sharing promising practices and strategies for advancing water equity. Elaborating on the paper’s introductory statement, the first section points out that communities “already overburdened with economic, environmental and health challenges are especially vulnerable” to the challenges associated with water resources.

Three Pillars
The second section of the Alliance briefing paper defines and provides case studies for three “Pillars of Water Equity”:

  • Ensure all people have access to clean, safe, affordable water service;
  • Maximize the community and economic benefits of water infrastructure investment; and
  • Foster community resilience in the face of a changing climate.

Regarding community and economic benefits, the paper says that as utilities undertake capital projects, “they can advance water equity at every stage of the process” and provide “solid, living-wage jobs that are excellent stepping stones to the middle class.” It adds that partnerships with community organizations, nonprofits, labor and philanthropy maximize opportunities for local employment, career paths, business development, contracting, education and neighborhood improvements.

Emerald Cities’ Water Commitment
While ECC’s work in the water space is emerging, its local coalitions have begun to make meaningful connections and inroads. “The agenda of the One Water Summit resonated with ECC’s work in a number of areas,” Fairchild observed

At the summit's closing plenary, ECC CEO Denise Fairchild discussed ECC's commitment to work with the US Water Alliance on a water equity strategy.One example described in the “Equitable Water Future” briefing paper involves work Emerald Cities undertook with the Metropolitan Alliance for Workforce Equity in Portland, Ore., leading to adoption of a community benefits agreement (CBA) aimed at diversifying employment and contracting for large city construction jobs. The CBA was successfully incorporated into two Portland Water Bureau projects, each of which then exceeded apprentice and journeyworker employment goals for women and people of color.

In addition, EC Cleveland is working with its local water/sewer district to increase jobs and business opportunities that will be generated from the major investment underway to rebuild its water/sewer system in compliance with an EPA consent decree. This includes opportunities in both hard and green infrastructure projects.   

And EC Seattle is using water conservation measures in its RENEW Multi-family affordable housing projects to achieve as much as 50 percent savings in water utility expenses, with those savings subsidizing a significant share of the total energy retrofit. 

In California’s Bay Area, EC San Francisco is working with its local water/wastewater utility, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), to audit and incorporate water conservation measures in its RENEW Multi-family affordable housing projects to drive savings in water utility expenses. Also, EC San Francisco is partnering with CleanPowerSF, the local community choice aggregator housed at the SFPUC, to help launch an on-bill repayment program whereby customers pay back the cost of energy and water upgrades on their properties via their monthly utility bills.

ECC’s Anchors in Resilient Communities (ARC) program is also pertinent. ARC alleviates intertwined economic, environmental and health burdens by leveraging the assets and capacities of community anchors to improve the local economies, climate resilience and health of low-income communities of color. ARC East Bay is focusing specifically on the energy-water-food nexus to strengthen climate resilience through locally-owned, sustainable agriculture that also uses water-saving technologies.

Putting Water Investment in Perspective
Also distributed at the summit was The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure, a product of the Value of Water Campaign that the Alliance coordinated. Putting water infrastructure investment in perspective, it notes: “The U.S. needs to invest a total of $123 billion per year in water infrastructure in the next 10 years (in current 2016 dollars) to achieve a good re of repair. 

While this might seem like a daunting amount of money, the report continues: “The U.S. economy would stand to gain over $220 billion in annual economic activity by meeting its water infrastructure needs,” and “service disruptions put $43.5 billion in daily economic activity at risk.”

In other words, “The funding gap is significant, but the benefits of filling the gap are far greater.”

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