We are proud to share a new report, Policy Innovations to Secure Drinking Water for All, in partnership with the US Water Alliance and water leaders across the country. Between fall 2019 and winter 2020, we met with nearly 100 state and Tribal water experts, advocates, and organizers in a series of regional roundtables in Atlanta, Detroit, Sacramento, and Santa Fe to share safe drinking water solutions.

In the US, racial injustice is ingrained in the systems that shape who has safe, clean, and affordable water. Recent reports, such as those by NRDC, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, and Coming Clean, as well as DigDeep and US Water Alliance, have underscored how Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color are most likely to live without running water or with toxic tap water as a result of redlining, disinvestment, and other aspects of structural inequity.

We organized and held these roundtables before the renewed protests for racial justice and the current public health and economic emergencies began. Even then, it was beyond time to re-examine and restructure public policies to ensure economic, racial, and health equity for all. As organizations focused on water, we are committed to ensuring equity in access to safe water, and the past few months have put that work into increasingly stark relief.

Our hypothesis in organizing these roundtables was that coalitions across the country, working in different places and on different pollutants, might have some common lessons learned. Furthermore, stronger networks across these individual efforts might help advance even better solutions and efforts to confront the systemic barriers to safe and affordable water.

We learned that despite regional differences, leaders face many shared challenges, and winning coalitions and campaigns have approached drinking water challenges in some similar ways:

  • Start with community-based solutions;
  • Harness data to tell a compelling experience- and evidence-based story;
  • Build a unifying vision and coalition; and
  • Cultivate political will and leadership.

Still, many promising efforts face obstacles to achieving water justice. One of our key recommendations to the philanthropic community coming out of these roundtables is that to scale these successes more support is needed for organizing, lobbying, and political activities, which are necessary for holding decision makers accountable and broadening who makes water decisions. Private foundations have far more capacity to invest in political advocacy than they are currently using, and this is the time to activate all the tools we have to their greatest extent.

The report shared today builds on that call to action. We hope it will help advance a deeper national dialogue on how communities, advocates, utilities, policymakers, and funders can collaborate to achieve and sustain the human right to water.

The report is organized in four sections:

  • Drinking Water Challenges in America contextualizes the scope, type, and consequences of the nation’s drinking water challenges;
  • States and Tribes: Seedbeds of Innovation describes the important role that state and Tribal policies are playing in advancing progress;
  • Spotlight on Policy Solutions presents eight case studies of drinking water policy successes that were shared at the regional roundtables; and
  • Elements of Success draws lessons from the case studies and the regional roundtable discussions about what is needed to spread and scale progress on safe drinking water for all.

We are deeply grateful for the expertise, candor, and resolve of the participants of this roundtable series and the advisory group, as well as for support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.