By Chuck Chaitovitz, US Chamber of Commerce
On March 22, the world celebrated World Water Day. This day was an appropriate backdrop for the first United Nations Water Conference in more than four decades, and it was a fitting lead up to the release of our first ever Small and Disadvantaged Community Water Roadmap, in partnership with Veolia and the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
I am always asked why businesses care about water. Water is existential to the employees, customers, and the communities where they operate. It is essential to the building blocks of life – food, energy, and health. Water is also often a key element in industrial processes or ingredient for products for sectors across the economy. During our recent public health crises communities depended on reliable supplies of clean water to fight them. And the challenges of climate change tend to manifest themselves in water, too much or too little in the wrong places. Simply put – every challenge is a water challenge, and every job is a water job.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provided more than $50 billion over five years to address water and wastewater infrastructure challenges nationwide. This funding is nothing less than a transformational, once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the landscape of how we deliver water services in America.
Technical Assistance Is Needed
Much of the bipartisan IIJA’s funding is intended for small, disadvantaged communities, which play a critical role in our nation’s overall economic health. But many do not know where to start to access to funding and capital, and where to look for information to help them.
Additional technical assistance, partnerships, and funding resources are needed. More must be done to provide for programs that were authorized but not appropriated in the IIJA, including the low-income assistance pilots that will provide direct payments to utilities for households in need, much in the same way rising energy costs are addressed. The 2023 Farm Bill may also offer a solid legislative vehicle to provide solutions to small, disadvantaged communities.
Therefore, as the global water community gathers at the UN Water Conference, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, together with Veolia and the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania released our Small and Disadvantaged Community Water Roadmap. For the first time ever, this effort consolidates many of the available public and private technical assistance resources to access water and resilience funding into one report, including:
Laying out solutions to help communities and companies get started on water innovation, including interim, decentralized solutions and water reuse.
Sharing best practices for small and disadvantaged communities to access the significant IIJA funding and other federal resources.
Outlining a policy agenda to fill needed gaps in water infrastructure funding, policies, and technical assistance to ensure that small and disadvantaged communities can access resources for sustainable water supplies, to support environmental justice initiatives, and build modern, resilient drinking water infrastructure.
This roadmap should be considered a living document. We will continue to make updates as more data and information becomes available, and welcome others to this effort.