The past decade has seen a significant uptick in discussions of water supply and conservation, and equity and inclusion. The two topics are now becoming inextricably linked.
In California, for example, a tax measure in 2018 that funds stormwater capture projects to augment water supplies was passed with a 2/3 majority. Major water agencies, such as the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, have appointed chief equity officers to ensure a voice for all communities.
And while this is progress, engagement within disadvantaged communities around conservation efforts continues to be a challenge. Barriers for these communities include language, access to technology and the time required to investigate and engage with programs on top of everyday responsibilities.
To encourage action, programs must demonstrate that the value of participation is as valuable as the time necessary for activities like commuting, working multiple jobs, caring for family, managing daily household and community responsibilities.
To start making progress with equity in water conservation, existing programs can be modified to reduce the complexity of the application process, add emphasis to multi-family communities and consider how cultural factors such as prevalence of multi-generation households affects water consumption, and therefore conservation. Outreach and program support staff can be brought to places applicants already frequent, such as in community centers, parks and where they access other community services.
Our focus in 2022 and moving forward should extend beyond creation of conservation programs simply for their potential to reduce water use. We need to emphasize equity in conservation engagement to encourage a deeper understanding of the problem and its near- and long-term impacts on everyone and build enduring partnerships with underserved populations around this important issue.
Only when this occurs can a water conservation program fully deliver on its promise of serving the whole community, while protecting and preserving the environment and water supplies.
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