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Case Studies: Water Justice Toolkit

Posted on July 8, 2021 by
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Excerpts from American River’s “Water Justice Toolkit: A Guide to Address Environmental Inequities in Frontline Communities”

CLEAN AND SAFE WATER GUIDE (Page 30)

COMMUNITY CASE STUDY: WORKING WITH RESIDENTS TO ENSURESAFE DRINKING WATER

When a municipality issues an advisory on elevated lead levels in drinking water, residents are alarmed and looking for answers. Is my water undrinkable? Do I need a filter? Do I buy bottled water?

Freshwater Future partners community groups to make sure residents understand the advisory. Volunteers train neighbors on how to flush their water and install filters. Freshwater Future has even provided grants to pay volunteer stipends, share educational materials, and complete water testing for lead and other metals. And once the results come in, Freshwater Future is there to help analyze the data and communicate to communities and to the Health Department. Alexis Smith, Community Program and Technical Associate explains, “If you’ve ever seen a water analysis, you can imagine how overwhelmed these residents must feel. Environmental chemistry is not my background, so even for me, it was a learning curve. You have to learn the acronyms and the contaminants and what they can do. We translate and communicate what the data is actually saying.”

When it comes to drinking water, says Smith, “zero amount of lead is safe.” Freshwater Future remains engaged until all lead service lines are replaced or tests prove that the water is safe. “The residents tell us how they would like to move forward, and we support them every step of the way,” she says. “Whether that is through strategy for taking actions or funding to support their initiatives.” Freshwater Future offers a great example of how to follow the lead of the community.


PUBLIC PARTICIPATION GUIDE (Page 102)

COMMUNITY CASE STUDY: ORGANIZING FOR WATER SECURITY DURING COVID-19 TOLEDO COMMUNITY WATER COUNCIL

Through robust public participation, the Toledo Community Water Council provides oversight and community support to the city of Toledo. The Council’s collective knowledge and insight have been key to developing the city’s water bill assistance program. Reliable access to water is becoming more expensive, and during COVID, water disconnection can have a devastating public health impact. For years, Freshwater Future has been working with the Toledo Community Water Council to address water issues throughout the City.

For residents experiencing water shutoffs due to nonpayment or leaks, this work has become even more urgent during the pandemic. “Utilities are run by engineers; often they don’t think about the social impact of these shutoffs on people working check to check,” says Alexis Smith, Community Program and Technical Associate for Freshwater Future. “When we organize to find solutions, our goal is—turn the water on, keep the water on.” Members of the Toledo Community Water Council organized to respond to rising water rates and the inequity and harm that results when city governments and utilities are not proactive and transparent. Freshwater Future has helped individual residents request assessments to identify water leaks driving up their water bills and file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to understand why water rates continue to increase. They also helped the municipality identify funding for full lead service line replacement in order to lower the cost burden on residents.


To view the  full report by American Rivers:  Water Justice Toolkit: A Guide to Address Environmental Inequities in Frontline Communities

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.