Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Water Systems

Recode recognizes that the environmental movement to date has been steeped in exclusivity and wishes to be a leader in inclusive processes related to furthering the adoption of ecological water and sanitation systems throughout the country. This page is a collation of our research, findings, and outreach on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Recode’s Definitions

Diversity:  People with different lived experiences are contributing together.
Inclusion: People with different lived experiences have different needs that are recognized, welcomed, and accommodated to facilitate their contributions.
Equity:  Everyone has what they need to be successful, according to their own definition of success.

Who Needs Equitable Water Systems

To perform our work in an equitable way, we need to recognize who lacks privilege in water systems by looking at group memberships and understand the ways in which they lack privilege:

Under-resourced communities/Under-resourced community members: For the purposes of this work, under-resourced communities include (but may not be limited to) people who self-identify with one or more of the following group memberships.

Group Membership: Water-specific equity considerations:
Low-income Most likely to be targeted for development, gentrified, then displaced. May have difficulty paying their utility bills, which can lead to losing their children to state custody (after the water is turned off) and/or houselessness.
People of Color (POC) POC communities often located in places where access to clean water is limited. Income disparities on a national level exist.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer Income disparities on a national level exist.
Transgender & non-gender Access to sanitation is a safety issue when someone else decides they’re not in the “right” bathroom. Income disparities on a national level exist.
Houseless Access to water and sanitation limited or non-existent. Access to water likely to be surface water, which is low quality for drinking. Income disparities on a national level exist.
Women Women are society’s primary care givers, taking care of family members when they become sick from tainted water. Lack of access to clean water can impact the health of pregnant women and the viability of their babies. Income disparities on a national level exist.
English as a Second Language (ESL) Income disparities on a national level exist.
Not college educated Income disparities on a national level exist.
Renter Renters have no control to replace old pipes that might be needed for health reasons. Income disparities on a national level exist.
Physically disabled May be physically limited to water and sanitation due to spatial designs of kitchens, bathrooms, and public buildings. May have a digestion-related illness (e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome) that requires them to plan their day around access to sanitation. May lack capacity for maintenance of dencetralized systems. Income disparities on a national level exist.
Intellectually disabled Income disparities on a national level exist.
Visually impaired Income disparities on a national level exist.
Hearing impaired Income disparities on a national level exist.
Immigrants May lose ability to use culturally relevant practices (e.g. rainwater harvesting). Income disparities on a national level exist.
Rural The “last mile” residents have no access to a public piping network, making water and sanitation more expensive for rural people than it is for urban people. Access to high quality drinking water may be more limited than other areas because of polluted groundwater (e.g. nitrates, fracking chemicals) or surface water. Income disparities on a national level exist; however, the poverty rate for rural dwellers is lower than for urban dwellers.
Coastal Access to high quality drinking water may be limited by polluted groundwater (i.e. saltwater intrusion).
Youth Youth have little to no control over where they live and how much money their parents or guardians make. Most youth are prohibited from getting a job that might help alleviate poverty. All of these make them more vulnerable from a water access perspective. Children are more susceptible to health effects of tainted water (e.g. blue baby syndrome, lead poisoning, acute respiratory problems, inflammatory bowel disease) future access to water likely to be limited.
Seniors Income disparities on a national level exist.
All As a result of biased institutional policies throughout our social systems, many people in these groups are disempowered to make decisions about their own health and welfare as it relates specifically to access to water and sanitation and generally, as it relates to many other issues.


Some Sources of Inequity in Water Systems

In addition to understanding the people who lack privilege, we want to understand the systems that drive inequalities in water systems.

There are many different sources of historic and/or current systemic inequities to consider:

  • Bank lending practices limit who can contribute their vision of sustainability by limiting who can expand their business services or become a developer (e.g. people of color, women). For example, from the Oregon Department of Transportation Civil Rights Department disparity study of 2011: “Majority-owned construction firms” — in Oregon, this means *White-owned* construction firms — are loaned 50 times more money than “Black firms with the same borrowing characteristics”.
  • Drinking water supply quality and sanitary sewer service availability varies across the country. Poor quality and service are more often correlated with low-income and/or people of color communities.
  • State funding allocations are often less for rural versus urban for jurisdictional program management, which is likely to result in different water quality and availability outcomes.
  • Combined sewers are usually older and/or less wealthy communities versus separated storm and sanitary sewers that are usually in newer and/or wealthier communities.
  • There is a lack of holistic regulatory authority (e.g. groundwater is often regulated by water quality jurisdictions who have no authority over the agricultural practices that pollute groundwater).
  • Facilities with air quality/odors are located in low-income neighborhoods to avoid backlash from people with enough time and money to oppose its location.
  • In some places, non-gendered bathrooms are illegal per the building code.
  • Industry pollutes and the community pays (e.g. PVC pipe manufacturers)
  • Privatizing utilities changes the distribution of income and expenses (e.g. shifting costs & income for water treatment to site-scale projects takes away revenue from the municipalities shared systems).
  • There can be a lack of accountability when choosing utility alignments (One oil utility related example that would pollute drinking water is the Dakota Access pipeline currently being constructed through Standing Rock Sioux disputed land against the wishes of that community).
  • Hazardous/toxic sites are often located in people-of-color dominated and/or impoverished neighborhoods AND POC and impoverished people move to those neighborhoods after the facilities have been sited there because this all they can afford or they crave the cultural benefits of being with people who share similar values or look like them.