Recode recognizes that the environmental movement to date has been steeped in exclusivity and wishes to be a leader in inclusive processes to further the adoption of ecological water and sanitation systems throughout the country. This page is a summary of our research, findings, and outreach on diversity, equity, and inclusion to date . It’s under construction and will continue to be updated over time as our understanding evolves. If you have a story of your own lived experience or feedback to share to improve this page, please contact us.
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, recognizing historic and present disparities.
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 Community Members: For the purposes of this work, under-resourced community members 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 and antidotes|
|Low-income||Most likely to be targeted for development, gentrified, then displaced. More likely to 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 air, water, and/or land is limited as a result of historic redlining and bias in the banking and loan industry. Historic and present disinvestment in POC dominated neighborhoods may result in limited or no access to a public piping network, making water and sanitation management more expensive. 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 (e.g. “One study found that the average earnings of transgender women workers fall by nearly one-third after transition“).
|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 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. Groundwater tainted with nitrates causes a life-threatening condition called blue baby syndrome. 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 for health reasons such as lead poisoning. Income disparities on a national level exist.|
|People with a physical limitation||Acces may be physically limited to water and sanitation due to spatial designs of kitchens, bathrooms, and public buildings and sidewalks. May have a digestion-related illness (e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome) that requires them to plan their day around access to sanitation. May lack physical capability for maintenance of decentralized systems. Income disparities on a national level exist.|
|People with a learning limitation||May lack physical capability for maintenance of decentralized systems. Income disparities on a national level exist.|
|People with a visual limitation||May lack physical capability for maintenance of decentralized systems. Income disparities on a national level exist.|
|People with a hearing limitation||Income disparities on a national level exist.|
|Immigrants||Information about opportunities is often only provided in English. May lose ability to use culturally relevant practices (e.g. rainwater harvesting). Income disparities on a national level exist.
|Rural||“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 or causing a public health crisis (e.g. Alabama’s “Black Belt”). 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. Groundwater tainted with nitrates causes a life-threatening condition called blue baby syndrome. 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 — receive more than 50 times as many loan dollars per dollar of equity capital as 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.