Washington, D.C. – The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water systems in the United States, will honor five public drinking water systems with its inaugural Environmental Justice and Equity Award on October 23 in ceremonies at its 2023 Executive Management Conference in San Diego, California.
The association created its new Environmental Justice and Equity Utility Management Award to recognize AMWA member utilities that have advanced environmental equity and justice in their communities using EPA’s definition, which reads, “environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
While utilities can choose various paths in pursuing environmental justice, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In developing this award, AMWA wanted to encourage utilities to strive to advance environmental justice in a way that meets their communities’ specific needs.
Recipients of this award submitted applications, which were reviewed by members of AMWA’s Board of Directors-led Environmental Justice Committee. Winners demonstrated how their utilities have overcome historic inequities and barriers within their communities by incorporating equity and civic involvement as building blocks to attaining equitable and sustainable water systems.
The inaugural 2023 AMWA Environmental Justice and Equity Utility Management Award winners are:
- Dallas Water Utilities
- Norfolk Department of Utilities
- Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority
- Valley Water
- WSSC Water
"As we celebrate the strides made in the water sector, AMWA's new Environmental Justice and Equity Utility Management Award shines a spotlight on member utilities championing environmental justice and equity within their communities," said AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins, CAE. "AMWA applauds the five pioneering utilities spearheading transformative initiatives, such as lead service line replacements, sustainable ratepayer programs, community revitalization endeavors, supplier diversity drives, and inclusive stakeholder collaborations. Their commitment is a beacon of progress in crucial areas for our shared future. Congratulations to all."
Below are snapshots of the award-winning efforts of each utility.
Dallas Water Utilities
Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) serves the City of Dallas, the ninth largest city in the country, and its 26 neighboring cities and districts. With a 2.6 million population service area, DWU funds and advances projects and programs included in the City’s Racial Equity Plan and equity measures, such as providing occupied, unserved communities with water and wastewater consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Housing Policy. DWU’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2023-24 budget advances the Unserved Areas program to increase equity across its water and wastewater systems and provide service to all residents. The funding has been increased by $31 million to expedite the delivery of the Unserved Areas program from 10 years to three to four years. DWU partners with state and national organizations to highlight its environmental justice and equity efforts.
Norfolk Department of Utilities
The City of Norfolk Department of Utilities, the second-largest water agency in Virginia, provides award-winning water and wastewater services to nearly one million consumers. The department incorporates environmental justice and equity throughout its operations, using diverse mechanisms and efforts. Integral to the department’s environmental justice and equity successes are the development of a highly engaged Outreach Committee, the establishment of online applications for various services, top-ranked regional bill assistance funds, and the mitigation of over 200,000 pounds of invasive plant life from its watershed. To help vulnerable populations eliminate barriers to access to clean water and wastewater services, the utility researches, applies for and advances assistance programs for low-income households.
Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority
Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) developed a network of equitable policies that make lead line replacement and lead-safe resources affordable and accessible for every customer, regardless of background or economic status. Calling upon guidance from its Lead Advisory Committee, comprised of local experts and community advocates, PWSA has created a prioritization model to ensure the most at-risk populations receive free lead service line replacements first. Prioritization factors include concentrations of persons of childbearing age, children under six, income, Environmental Justice Mapping data, and the prevalence of lead service lines in a neighborhood. Today, PWSA is more than halfway to its goal of replacing all public lead lines and has replaced thousands of privately owned lines at no cost.
Valley Water, the largest multipurpose water supply and special district in California, has a long history of serving its community equitably to ensure access to safe, clean water, flood protection, and environmental stewardship for all. The utility’s unique structure enables a comprehensive regional approach to water resources management and stewardship that centers environmental justice (EJ) in planning and service delivery. Valley Water’s Board of Directors adopted EJ guidelines into its Governance Policies in February 2021, setting the tone and promoting EJ alignment throughout the agency. Resulting initiatives include the Water Rates Assistance Program to provide financial assistance to low-income families struggling to pay their water bills, the Balancing Act tool to enable direct public input into their budget process, and the tribal liaison function.
WSSC Water, Maryland’s largest water utility, focuses on diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice (DEI&EJ) to ensure the system operates as an anchor institution in the communities in which it serves. Through its internal and external programs, initiatives, and practices, WSSC Water guarantees that DEI&EJ efforts are weaved throughout the system to ensure sustainable measures during and beyond the current leadership’s tenure. WSSC Water’s DEI&EJ focus areas include its employees (Team H2O), community and stakeholder engagement, supplier diversity through minority and small local business enterprises, public health, equitable and environmentally just operations, investigations and resolution of equal opportunity issues, and capital improvement planning and prioritization.
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) has been the unified and definitive voice for the nation’s largest publicly owned drinking water systems for over 40 years. AMWA’s membership services more than 160 million people with safe drinking water.