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  • Aquifer/Groundwater

    Aquifers are underground reservoirs that hold groundwater. They are made up of permeable rock that can hold and transmit water to the surface, either through natural springs or by pumping.  Some communities draw their water supply from groundwater aquifers, either through centralized systems or via private wells, a distributed infrastructure technique.

  • Avoided costs

    In this context, avoided costs are the savings that result from adequately meeting water demands and not needing to treat and transmit additional water volume.

  • Asset management

    Assessing the assets (infrastructure) that make up the water, wastewater, or stormwater system for needed repairs and replacements. It also involves prioritzing projects to make best use of the utility’s limited funds. Good asset management improves water affordability – by proactively addressing infrastructure repair needs, utilities can avoid costly infrastructure failures like main breaks. 

  • Arrearage

    An outstanding balance on the water bill. Over-due charges on a water bill can lead to penalty fees, water shutoffs, and other debt-driven issues 

  • Appropriate rate setting

    Setting rates so that the amount of revenue collected from customers is sufficient to cover costs of water infrastructure collection, treatment, and transmission, while also considering consumer affordability. 

  • Aging Water Infrastructure

    Water infrastructure that is deteriorating due to a variety of factors including age and disinvestment.

  • Affordability

    Affordability According to the Pacific Institute, water is affordable when its cost does not prevent access, nor interfere with other essential expenditures (like food, shelter, electricity).

  • Advocacy

    Public support of a particular cause or issue, either by an individual, group, or coalition of groups.

  • Bond

    In this context, bonds are debt obligation issued by state or local governments. They are used to finance infrastructure projects, like water main replacements. A bond can also be described as a written promise to repay funds over a given period of time.

  • Block-Grants

    In this context, block grants are grants made available by the federal government for state and local governments for a variety of community development purposes, ranging from infrastructure improvements to equipment purchases. There are few strings attached to these dollars, so long as the funds are used in a manner that supports community development and investment. 

  • Block rate

    A block rate is a type of water rate structure set based on the amount of water (block, or tier) that a customer uses. An increasing block rate structure charges more per unit of water as  usage increases; a decreasing block rate charges less per unit of water as usage increases. Increasing block rates are often used to encourage water conservation. 


    Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

  • Bioswale

    A bioswale is a green stormwater infrastructure technique – it is a vegetated channel designed to carry, retain, and infiltrate stormwater using natural processes. Bioswales are generally designed to have engineered soil and native plants to improve onsite stormwater infiltration and retention capacity.

  • Billing Assistance Programs

    Programs that help a customer pay their bill. Assistance comes in many forms – depending on the circumstance, assistance might be a subsidy or discount on the total bill amount, a billing payment plan, or extended due date. This is pne form of a Customer Assistance Program.

  • Bill discounts

    A discounted bill simply means that some portion of the total water bill amount has been reduced, generally due to economic hardship. This is one type of Customer Assistance Program (CAP).

  • Customer classes

    A classification of ratepayer types, e.g., residential single-family building, residential multifamily building, commercial, industrial, low-income, fixed-income, etc. These classes help utilities set rates in response to the customer type, and can help both the utility collect more revenue and improve affordability outcomes. 

  • Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs)

    CAPs help customers manage past-due bills or pay current bills. These programs do not typically affect the rate structure but are used as a supportive mechanism for households who cannot afford to pay the utility’s standard rate structure. There are many different types of CAPs, including bill discounts, flexible payment terms, temporary hardship assistance and water efficiency.

  • Customer Assistance or Affordability Program Eligibility

    The requirements a low-income customer must meet in order to be considered for a customer assistance program.

  • Contamination

    Though many Americans have access to clean and safe drinking, research done by the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that every state in the country has reported chemical contaminants in its drinking water supplies. Contamination can result from industrial and agricultural pollutants, or household products that enter the water supply through the disposal process. Some common pollutants include lead, copper, arsenic, and PFOAs. Proper asset management and proactive infrastructure investment can reduce widespread contamination and public health crises. 

  • Consumer Bill of Rights

    A consumer bill of rights provides legal grounds for ratepayer complaints, provides guidance on rate-setting from a consumer protection angle, requires the implementation of direct assistance programs targeting vulnerable populations, and halts water shut-offs due to an inability to pay. 

  • Conservation

    Conservation is a sustainability practice focused on reducing water use to preserve natural resources. While conservation practices are generally implemented to achieve ecosystem health goals, they also improve affordability – less water use means lower water bill.

  • Connection fee

    The fee a utility administers to new or existing customers to cover capital costs associated with a new or updated water service connection

  • Community Sizes

    In order to develop more responsive guidance, regulatory oversight, technical support, and funding and financing to public water supply providers, the US EPA delineates public water systems by the size of the community served: very small (500 or less); small (501-3,300); medium (3,301-10,000); large (10,001-100,000); and very large (100,001 or more). While “very small” and “small” systems make up about 95% of all public water systems, they serve only 12% of all customers. 

  • Climate change

    As the climate changes, water resources and infrastructure systems will be impacted in several ways: old infrastructure may not be sized to manage increasingly severe storm events, causing sewer systems to become overwhelmed, flooding homes, yards, and streets, and sending untreated sewage and stormwater into rivers and lakes; prolonged drought periods may lead to depleted groundwater tables, causing water access issues; old infrastructure. Municipalities must make investments in aging water infrastructure to ensure its resilience in a time climate change – these investments will likely cause rate increases, which could creat affordability issues

  • Centralized Infrastructure

    Centralized infrastructure systems are ones in which collection, treatment, and distribution occurs at a central location (water or wastewater treatment plant). These systems make up the majority of water and wastewater infrastructure networks. 

  • Capitalization grants

    Federal grant awarded to States by the EPA to create and maintain Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRFs). These funds: (1) enable States to encourage construction of wastewater treatment facilities to meet the enforceable requirements of the Clean Water Act (Act); (2) increase the emphasis on nonpoint source pollution control and protection of estuaries; and (3) establish permanent financing institutions in each State to provide continuing sources of financing to maintain water quality.

  • Capital Improvement Plan

    An implementation plan developed by a utility or municipalitiy that lists all planned capital projects, equipment purchases, and major planning / engineering studies. Capital improvement plans typically include information about construction timeframes and financing and funding needs. The plan provides a working blueprint for sustaining and improving the community’s infrastructure.

  • Capital costs and operating costs

    All of a utility’s cost can be divided into capital costs – the costs required to construct new water infrastructure versus operating costs – the costs required for a utility to remain in business (includes salaries, for instance).

  • Distressed Communities

    A community that has an unemployment rate that is, for the most recent 24-month period for which data are available, at least 1 percent greater than the national average unemployment rate.

  • Discharge

    Discharge refers to the release of untreated sewage (effluent) into a waterbody (lake, river, or stream). The US EPA regulates discharge locations, and requires that communities come up with discharge prevention programs, to improve local water quality. 

  • Disadvantaged communities or those with economic hardships

    Many federal and state programs require that a portion of funding be set aside for disadvantaged communities or those with economic hardships. The exact definition disadvantage or economic hardship is usually left to the funded entity to decide, but it normally refers to communities with poor socioeconomic outcomes or existing environmental vulnerabilities (e.g., air and water pollution contamination, extreme flooding impacts, etc.). 

  • Direct Assistance Program

  • Deindustrialization

    A decline in industrial activity in a community, possibly leading to loss of jobs and population. Many large Great Lakes communities, like Flint, Gary, and Buffalo, experienced deindustrialization in the 1960s and ’70s, which led to economic decline and significant population loss. The population loss has led to vast swaths of water infrastructure that are underutilized and falling into disrepair, putting a financial strain on the water system and the customers who pay for it.

    From includes permeable pavements, green roofs, rain gardens, smart meters, drought-tolerant landscaping, leak detection devices, water efficient appliances, graywater systems, rainwater catchment, point-of-use water treatment and more.

  • Distributed infrastructure

    Definitions vary, but for these purposes, distributed infrastructure systems (sometimes referred to as decentralized infrastructure by water utility staff) are ones in which the collection, treatment, and distribution of the resources occurs throughout a community or service area. In contrast with a centralized system which relies on a large water treatment and pumping station, or wastewater treatment plant to service an entire community, distributed or decentralized systems serve smaller areas (a neighborhood, for instance) and, if implemented properly, can be more resource efficient. Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) is an example of a distributed stormwater management strategy – as opposed to collecting stormwater in pipes and sending it off to a wastewater treatment plant, GSI uses natural processes to capture, hold, and slowly infiltrate water on site, preventing flooding and other sewer overflow issues.

    According to WaterNow, distributed systems can include permeable pavements, green roofs, rain gardens, smart meters, drought-tolerant landscaping, leak detection devices, water-efficient appliances, graywater systems, rainwater catchment, point-of-use water treatment and more

    Broadview Collaborative’s definition highlights the point of use aspect of distributed infrastructure: “…the term distributed is used to describe dispersed facilities that extend beyond the central infrastructure and are located at or near the point of use. They can service a range of scales, from individual homes to communities; function independently or remain connected to a centralized system; and be located remotely or within city boundaries.”

  • Essential water use

    Minimum required amount of water needed to fulfill basic residential indoor water uses, like drinking, bathing, and cooking. 

  • Equity

    In the context of this report, equity refers to an approach to policy and program development that prioritizes investment in communities in most need or at a largest disadvantage. More broadly, equity means providing people and communities with the number of resources or types of opportunities they specifically need to achieve an improved quality of life. It takes into account the historical costs and barriers certain identities (race, gender, and ability (ex: deaf, blind, etc) have faced due to discrimination. It’s important to note that there are different types of equity that relate to water services. For example, allocating the right amount of costs to a given customer class (such as residential versus commercial customers) is one main objective of equity in pricing water. Intergenerational equity refers to  which customers pay for a specific project versus which customers benefit the most from that project over time

  • Equitable rate structure

    Rate structures that account for consumer type and ability to pay. Also see “equity.”

  • Enterprise Fund

    An enterprise fund is a utility’s (mostly) costumer fee-based fund whose sole purpose is to cover the utility’s expenses. The fund is  independent of the parent government, meaning that the revenues and expenditures of the utility should not be commingled with the general fund money of the local government.

  • EPA Water Finance Clearinghouse
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

    The US federal agency responsible for monitoring environmental issues and implementing environment-related federal policies and practices. The US EPA sets standards for monitoring air and water quality, and holds communities accountable to these standards, requiring compliance action by those communities that report air and water quality concerns. 

  • Ecosystem

    An ecosystem is the natural system of plants, animals, and water, land, and air resources that work together to create a habitable community. 

  • Economy(ies) of scale

    Financial savings and efficiencies due to increasing the number of users served.

  • Full-cost pricing

    Water rates that are set based on the full or comprehensive cost of water service – collection, treatment, transmission, operations, and maintenance. Full cost pricing helps utilities ensure that they will collect enough revenue to cover the costs of operating and maintaining their system. 

  • Frontline Groups

    Communities that typically face the largest burden of environmental and economic injustice, and generally experience challenges first and hardest. In the United States, due to historical and current practices of discrimination and racism, frontline groups usually consist of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, who also typically have low income or unstable income, disabilities, and/or do not have U.S. citizenship.

  • Flooding

    Flooding occurs when rainfall or snowmelt overwhelms wastewater infrastructure and waterways, and makes its way into basements, backyards, and streets.  Flooding is occuring more frequently as the climate changes – communities are experiencing more frequent and intense rain events and do not neccesarily have the wastewater infrastructure capacity to handle these events. 

  • Financial Capacity/Capability

    The ability of the community as a whole, or on average, to bear the costs of service. (This is different from the affordability of individual households that are customers of a water utility).

  • Federal Program

    Initiatives created by federal agencies that implement policies. 

  • Federal Policy

    Policies passed by Congress that are enacted at the federal level and administered by a federal agency. 

  • Federal Agency

    Agencies that operate within the federal government and address specific policy areas, such as the environment (Environmental Protection Agency – EPA), housing (Housing and Urban Development – HUD), health (Health and Human Services – HHS), and energy (Department of Energy – DOE).

  • H.R. 6552 (Emergency Water is a Human Right Act)

    H.R. 6552 was introduced in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it did not pass, it declared water as a human right and proposed the creation of a grant program to assist low-income households in affording drinking water and wastewater services. The Act would have authorized a pilot program consisting of mini-grants awarded to drinking water and wastewater system operators to develop and implement customer assistance programs (CAPs), including percentage of income payment plans, direct billing assistance, lifeline rates, bill discounts, household conservation retrofits, and others.

  • Involuntary Water Shutoff

    When a water utility shuts off water services for a household without the household’s consent, often due to unpaid bills.  Water shutoffs can create enormous, and sometimes long-lasting, problems for those impacted, including health and sanitation, credit, child custody, and homeownership issues. 

  • Intersectionality

    For this toolkit’s purposes, intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of one’s socioeconomic identity and environmental and public health issues, and in particular how certain social categorizations, like race, class, or gender, combined with environmental and health issues drive different expressions of discrimination and privilege (Crenshaw,  1991). Intersectionality and water issues come up when we think about who (Black, brown, and Indigenous communities) is more likely to experience unaffordable water bills and how those unaffordable bills perpetuate poor health, economic, and societal outcomes. 

  • Intended Use Plan

    A published document the identifies the planned uses of all funds for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs and describes how those uses support the overall goals of the programs and how the projects have been prioritized. Also see “project priority list.”

  • Integrated Resource Planning

    A method of planning that utilizes least-cost planning strategies (i.e., using cost-benefit analyses to make investment decisions), and incorporates scenario planning, participatory decision-making, and community involvement.  Integrated resource planning also considers wastewater and stormwater systems alongside water supply systems, because each system is connected to the overall quantity and quality of the water system. 

  • Influence

    In the context of this resource, influence refers to the power that an individual, organization, or coalition of organizations has to influence change at the local, state, or federal level. 

  • Infiltration

    A natural process in which water (typically rainwater) soaks into (or infiltrates) a porous/permeable surface like soil, rather than running off an impermeable surface like concrete. The process of infiltration may remove some pollutants in the rainwater, which can help protect local groundwater and surface water quality. Infiltration is one of the primary mechanisms by which green stormwater infrastructure reduces flooding – rain drops sink where they fall, rather than running into a wastewater pipe. 

  • Income payment plans

    A type of customer assistance program, income payment plans establish a payment plan appropriate for household’s income. These payment plans are typically available to households with overdue bills or bills that are too high for the household to pay in a lump sum. 

  • Impact bonds

    A type of bond where the interest payments to the bond-buyers are tied to the performance of the project. The projects funded by these bonds usually have social and environmental benefits. See also “social impact investing.”

  • Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program Act

    Introduced in 2018, this bill would have established a new pilot program, issuing grants to community water systems to develop low-income household assistance programs. It did not pass, but its language has informed future legislative efforts, including H.R. 6552. 

  • Low-capacity Community/High-capacity community

    While there isn’t necessarily an industry-agreed upon term, low-capacity communities are understood to have fewer staff and financial resources to plan, implement, and operate infrastructure, whereas high-capacity communities are well resourced and can take on proactive strategic projects. Federal and state programs should orient technical assistance toward low-capacity communities to ensure that these places are receiving the support needed to avoid infrastructure failures. 

  • Loan

    A loan is a financing tool in which an amount of money is lent from one entity to another with a promise of repayment of the principal amount plus interest. In water infrastructure financing, loans are prevalent, and the federal and state government often work to reduce the interest rate required of municipalities to make loan programs more accessible, especially to communities with economic hardships.

  • Lifeline rates

    Lifeline rates are defined differently in different contexts. Often they refer to a fixed fee for a certain volume of water. This water may be included with the base or fixed charge. In other cases, the first few units of water is priced low. The volume involved is considered to cover essential, indoor water use. At times, the price for this volume of water is below the cost for the utility to produce this water. In other words, the cost is subsidized. Lifeline rates are one way to address affordability concerns. However, all of the customers, regardless of income receive the benefit. Some utilities use the term differently, where they refer to a specific customer assistance program where only qualified customers receive the lower rate.

  • Life cycle cost

    The cost of infrastructure over the full period of its use. Life cycle cost analysis looks at initial costs, the maintenance and operations cost over the life of the infrastructure, and any residual value the infrastructure has at the end of its useful life. Life cycle costing is helpful in discussions about innovative (or simply different technology). Take efficiency fixtures or green stormwater infrastructure practices – the initial capital costs might be more expensive than traditional gray infrastructure, but the life cycle costs might show that water-efficient fixtures or green stormwater infrastructure practices last longer and perform better over the full life of the project.

  • Lien

    Liens are legal claims that a water utility has on a property with unpaid water bills. If water bills are left unpaid, the community typically has the authority to foreclose on the property.  There are major equity concerns related to liens – low-income homeowners that may struggle to pay their mortgage are already vulnerable to foreclosure. Liens connected to missed water payments increase the risk of foreclosure and increase instability among low-income populations.

  • Leveraging

    Refers to the practice of using funds from a given source, such as the WIFIA program, to attract other investment sources into a project. For WIFIA, common leveraging sources include SRF, private capital, and local investment, including issuing bonds.

  • Levelized cost

    The unit cost of conserved water or energy

  • Least-Cost Planning

    A method of planning that uses cost-benefit analyses to achieve the least-cost outcome. Least-cost planning must be done with an equity lens applied alongside the cost-benefit analysis, to ensure that least-cost outcomes do not cause harm to vulernable/disadvantaged communities. 

  • Land use impacts

    Land use refers to the way that communities use land – different land uses include residential neighborhoods, agricultural land, park land, conservation areas, commercial corridors, industrial zones, etc. Different land uses impact wastewater, and stormwater systems in different ways (i.e., agricultural and industrial land-use practices might contribute to water quality impairments, requiring expensive cleanup efforts)

  • Metering

    The process of installing meters in order to measure how much water a customer uses per billing cycle. Meters can also help individuals prevent excess water loss by accurately reporting household water use. 

  • Median

    The middle value in a collection of numbers, where 50% of the group is below the value and 50% is above the value. Median Household income is commonly used to measure the affordability of water services, though there are well-documented flaws with this metric, such as the fact that it does not consider the prevalence of poverty throughout a community.

  • Maintenance costs

    Cost for upkeep of water infrastructure to ensure equipment continues to work efficiently to achieve the operational goals of the utility e.g. cleaning, calibration, leak detection and repairs, greasing. Often combined with operation costs in the term cost for “operations and maintenance” or O&M.

  • Nonpoint Source Pollution Projects

    Projects designed to address non-point sources of pollution. 

    Pollution that is generated from a widespread source, such as excess fertilizer on grass and farms, as opposed to a specific point, such as a pipe from a factory.

  • Opportunity costs

    The idea that when one alternative is chosen, there is a loss of potential gain from other alternatives.

  • Public Comment

    Feedback and suggestions to a government agency on a proposed rule or regulation under consideration by the agency. Public comments are one form of influence that individuals or groups have on local, state, and federal decision making.

  • Project Priority List

    Project priority lists are part of a State Revolving Fund’s Intended Use Plan. The lists include projects that will score the highest in the state revolving fund criteria, and are therefore most likely to be funded.

  • Power

    The ability to organize resources (like money) and people to implement an action or idea. Those with power have the ability to choose between desirable options. 

  • Potable Water

    Also referred to as “drinking water” – potable water has been treated to ensure safe consumption.

  • Pollution

    When harmful substances, such as chemicals or microorganisms, contaminate a body of water (e.g. a lake or river).

  • Pilot Program

    An initial, small-scale adaptation of a program to test its effectiveness and operation, often used to determine if a program should be expanded and implemented on a larger scale. 

  • Permeable paving

    Permeable paving is a green stormwater infrastructure technique – it is a type of pavement with a porous surface that allows stormwater to infiltrate rather than run off into the sewer system. Porous surface types include interlocking bricks, gravel, or permeable asphalt or concrete. 

  • Performance targets

    The, ideally measureable, goals that a program intends to accomplish.

  • Rising cost sector

    In general, this concept captures the fact that future water costs will be greater than past water costs, which have historically been quite low. These historically low rates have contributed to the underinvestment in America’s infrastructure, which has led to infrastructure failings and contributed to affordability challenges. 

  • Right sized infrastructure

    Infrastructure is right-sized when the amount of greywater infrastructure (pipes, tunnels, treatment facilities) is the appropriate amount for the population it serves. In other words, the infrastructure is not too large for the population (which could lead to high bills due to fewer customers paying to maintain excess infrastructure) or too small for the population (would also lead to high bills due to stressed and overburdened infrastructure prone to failure)

  • Revenue

    The money that the water utility collects in rates and fees from its customers.

  • Retrofit

    In the context of water affordability, retrofits typically refer to the installation of conservation or efficiency fixtures at the home to reduce water usage and save money

  • Regionalization

    The process by which two or more nearby utilities merge into a single utility, bundle resources, coordinate processes (such as rate setting), and share resources with each other.

  • Ratepayer

    The consumer is served by the water utility and pays the water bill. 

  • Rate structure

    The pricing method a utility uses to calculate how much a consumer will pay for water usage. It includes both the base (fixed) fee and the volumetric charge.

  • Rain Garden

    A rain garden is a green stormwater infrastructure technique – it is a vegetated bowl designed to collect, retain, and infiltrate stormwater using natural processes. Rain barrels, like bioswales are generally designed to have engineered soil and native plants to improve onsite stormwater infiltration and retention capacity.

  • State Legislature

    State elected officials represent their constituents by researching, writing, and enacting state law (legislation), and perform an oversight role for the state executive branch.

  • Source water protection

    Source water refers to the rivers, streams, lakes, springs, etc. where drinking water utilities and private wells get their supplies from. Source water protection includes a wide variety of actions for safeguarding, or improving the quality and/or quantity of sources of drinking water and their contributing areas.

  • Social Impact Investing

    Also called socially responsible investing, or ESG (for environmental, social, and governance) investing, this type of investing focuses on companies and organizations that promote ethical and socially responsible consciousness such as environmental sustainability, social justice, and corporate ethics. 

  • Shovel-ready projects

    A term used to describe an infrastructure project that is considered to be at an advanced enough stage of development for implementation to begin soon. Planning may be almost complete and approval permits may already be in place, or quick to obtain.

  • Set-asides

    A percentage of funds in the State Revolving Loan (SRF) programs that are not used to fund direct infrastructure projects, but instead to fund more general activities such as operator certification.

  • Service Lines

    The smaller pipe that connects a customer’s property (e.g. a house) to the public water supply line (sometimes referred to as the water main)

  • Septic System/ Septic Tank

    Some houses and other buildings are not connected to a public wastewater system. Instead, the wastewater is treated onsite via a septic system that is composed of a septic tank and a drain field (shallow, covered drains). The septic tank is the underground water-tight container that holds the wastewater long enough for solids to settle down to the bottom before the liquid components enter the drain field.

  • Seasonal rates

    Water rates that vary based on the season, e.g., a utility might implement higher rates in the summer to discourage excessive water use, particularly for irrigation purposes. 

  • Surface Water

    Surface water is any body of water above ground, including rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, and reservoirs. Many communities draw their water supply from lakes and reservoirs, and discharge stormwater and treated wastewater into rivers and streams.

  • Time-of-day pricing

    Typically used in the energy sector, utilities set higher rates during peak usage hours and lower rates during off-peak hours. This rate variability incentivizes customers to use less energy during peak hours, saving themselves money and helping the utility meet efficiency goals/conserve resources. 

  • Tax-exempt Bonds

    A type of municipal bond where the bond-buyer does not have to pay taxes on the income from the bonds.

  • User charges: volumetric charge and fixed charge or fee

    The pricing structure for water services. The volumetric charge is the portion of a customer’s water bill that is based on the volume of water used. Usually, the wastewater charge is assumed to match the volume of water used.  Volume is measured in units of thousands of gallons, or centum/hundred cubic feet (CCF). This charge is in addition to the fixed fee. The fixed fee is the charge that helps covers costs for maintaining existing infrastructure and repaying loans and bonds used to build that infrastructure. The charge is typically the same every billing cycle and is unaffected by water usage.  Together, the “fixed fee” and “volumetric charge” make up the total water bill. 

  • Uniform rate structures

    A type of volumetric charge where each unit of water after any base (fixed or service) charge is set at the same price (e.g., $8 per thousand gallons)

  • Under-bounded communities

    When municipalities elect not to annex nearby unincorporated communities, particularly those communities that are low-income and/or majority Black, indigenous, or people of color, to avoid having to provide services to these communities, they are creating under-bounded communities. Because of the socio-economic situation of under-bounded areas, these communities struggle to make needed infrastructure upgrades, increasing the risk of infrastructure failure.  These communities typically fall into the “disadvantaged, vulnerable, or economically-hardshipped communities” category. 

  • Vulnerable households or populations

    Vulnerable populations can either refer to specific groups of people (children under 18, older populations over 65, pregnant women and nursing mothers, persons with disabilities, and persons with chronic illnesses) or to communities that face threats to water access and affordability.

  • Watershed

    An area of land that drains or “sheds” water into a specific waterbody (creek, river, lake, etc.)

  • Water utility

    The entity responsible for water treatment, distribution, rate-setting, and charging (i.e. from whom you receive your bill)

  • Water Supply System

    The source water and infrastructure, such as pipes and treatment facilities, needed to deliver water to households, businesses, and industrial customers.

  • Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

    WRDA is federal legislation through which congress appropriates funds for water infrastructure and amends the US Army Corps of Engineers authorizations. WRDA bills typically pass biennially and their impact varies depending on the interests and commitments of the legislative and executive branches of government. 

  • Water quality

    Water quality refers to the cleanliness / safety of drinking water or a body of water. The US EPA regulates water quality and sets different standards based on how the water will be used. For instance, drinking water must be treated to a different standard than a river or stream. The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollution into American waterways and sets water quality standards aimed primarily at protecting natural resources. The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates drinking water and sets protective drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants. Communities are required to produce annual water quality reports to ensure they are in compliance with federal regulations. 

  • Water loss

    Utilities treat and transmit billions of gallons of water every day – and every day billions of gallons of water is lost due to leaks in the system or water main breaks. Water loss costs utilities and subsequently ratepayers trillions of dollars – good asset management, auditing practices, and comprehensive residential metering can help utilities get a handle on the level of loss and begin to recoup these losses. 

  • Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA)

    Established in 2014, WIFIA is a federal water infrastructure financing program. Communities can cover up to 49% of project costs using low-interest WIFIA funds, and can use the funds to support a broad array of water infrastructure investment efforts. 

  • Water infrastructure

    Includes all the sewer pipes, water mains, treatment centers, flood control measures, water storage units and dams, chemicals, energy, and other pieces that supply and manage water, wastewater, and stormwater. Water infrastructure also includes natural processes, like green stormwater infrastructure, that manage stormwater and protect local water quantity and quality. 


  • Water Efficiency

    Practices and equipment put in place to reduce water use at a household or throughout a system. Reduced water use supports affordability outcomes by lowering bills, and helps sustain a community’s source of water. 

  • Water cycle

    The continuous movement of water within the earth and atmosphere. There are many processes involved, but the main concept is that liquid water evaporates into water vapor, condenses to form clouds, and precipitates back to earth in the form of rain and snow. As water and wastewater customers, we benefit from a well-balanced, uninterrupted water cycle – water conservation and efficiency practices are important to ensure the lasting integrity of local waterways/groundwater systems from which we draw water and into which we discharge treated wastewater.

  • Water bill

    The document that shows how much a water/wastewater customer owes the utility, ideally including the volume of water the customer used. Water bills may include fees for additional services such as stormwater, as well as non-water-related services such as trash collection. Visit the “Utilities” section of this guide for details about the components and corresponding terminology of a water bill.

  • Water Audit Report

    A report of all of the water infrastructure (pipes, plants, etc) in a system, outlining the water used for each infrastructure unit, a log of the metered amounts of water used, repairs made, repairs forthcoming, and other planned investments. An audit report supports good asset management practices. 

  • Water audit

    Water audits are an assessment of water treated, transmitted, used, and lost throughout the water supply system. A water audit can help utilities identify leaks in their water infrastructure and strategically address leaks, based on the level of loss identified. 

  • Water affordability programs

    Water affordability programs aim to set pricing based on a customer’s ability to pay. When done well, they ensure that households are able to pay for all necessities without compromise (i.e., a household isn’t choosing to pay for either energy or water – they can afford both).  Affordability programs are distinctive from assistance programs which offer temporary help via one-time discounts, payment plans, etc. Currently, the US EPA calculates an affordable combined water and wastewater bill as no more than 4.5% of the community’s median household income. As discussed, however, this method does not take into account the prevalence of poverty in a community and the impact of basic water, wastewater, and stormwater bill on low-income households. 

  • Wastewater/wastewater services and stormwater/stormwater services

    Wastewater is water that has been used by a customer (residential, commercial, industrial) and wastewater services (sometimes referred to as sewer services) are the provision of services to collect, treat, and discharge wastewater. Wastewater service charges are typically included on the water bill and charged based on the volume of water used. Stormwater is rain, snow, or ice melt that either infiltrates into the earth via pervious surfaces (see green stormwater infrastructure) or runs off into the sewer system and is either discharged into the environment or combined with wastewater and taken to a treatment plant and then discharged. Stormwater services are typically bundled with wastewater services, but due to the growing prevalence of flooding and stormwater management needs, some communities have begun to charge separately for stormwater services. 

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