A Valentine's Day Approach to Water Affordability
As we celebrate Black History Month, Valentine's Day, and Social Justice Day this February, let us channel the spirit of love and justice toward creating a sustainable and equitable water future. AWE recognizes that water affordability is a social justice issue, which disproportionately affects marginalized communities. We are committed to helping our members advance their water conservation and efficiency efforts through an equity lens.
Are you wanting to make a difference in your community but don’t know where to start?
- Collect Data: You cannot manage what you do not measure. Start by gathering what you know about your organization and your community. Examples of data can be found in the Alliance for Water Efficiency affordability assessment reports. The data is likely to live across many different departments; consider building a team of folks to regularly start discussing the topic of water affordability and exploring the data together. Strategies will be most successful through organizational alignment and transparency.
- Commit to Equity: Thinking about how to ground your process and programs in a customer-centric, equity-focused lens is critical. This visual from a recent AWE presentation offers a few high-level questions your organization might ask yourself. This work is a journey, not a destination, so be bold and take the first step. You don’t have to have it all figured out to start making progress.
- Listen to Your Community: Community engagement is essential because it empowers individuals to actively participate in decision-making that directly impact their lives. When communities are engaged, diverse perspectives, experiences, and insights come to the forefront, enriching the process. This inclusivity fosters a sense of ownership, ensuring that projects align more closely with the unique needs and values of the community. Moreover, active engagement builds trust between community members and decision-makers, promoting transparency and accountability. By involving residents in discussions about issues such as water affordability, there is a greater likelihood of identifying innovative solutions that are culturally sensitive, sustainable, and well-received by the community.
- Collaborate: Residents who have trouble paying their water and wastewater bills are likely to struggle with other costs of living. Consider partnering with relevant City and community organizations and their staff on a coordinated and streamlined approach for addressing a range of affordability challenges folks may face. Simple cross-promoting programs are an easy first step, and aligning eligibility requirements or applications can make a meaningful difference for struggling households.
Partners might include organizations focused on any of these topics: social services, housing services, energy services, transportation services, employment services, health services, and more. Think beyond city or county agencies and reach out to community-based organizations, coalitions, and non-profits, too.
- Think Broadly: There’s no one solution to “fix” water affordability. Think broadly about the many ways to help your community, both directly and indirectly, in the short and long term. Here are just a few ideas:
We’re here to help!
Water affordability programs are evolving, demonstrating the transformative power of innovative approaches. From streamlined application processes to proactive outreach and the use of advanced technologies, these programs are making a tangible difference in the lives of vulnerable communities. As states continue to learn from each other's successes, the future holds promise for more inclusive and effective water affordability initiatives nationwide.
To ensure your next steps are data-informed and community-informed, AWE offers technical, consulting, facilitation, and community engagement services to communities exploring household water affordability and potential for water conservation and other affordability and assistance programs to provide meaningful and impactful support to vulnerable households.
Please email our team to learn more about how an AWE membership can support you in your water affordability work.
Need some inspiration?
Check out these impactful examples across other communities.