River Network & WaterNow Alliance: Building Trust Between Community Groups and Water Systems

Public investment in environmentally sustainable water infrastructure is crucially needed for the health and safety of our communities and waterways, and strong and authentic relationships between local community groups and water systems built on trust are vital to achieving equitable and sustainable water systems. Answering this need, community-based organizations and water systems across the country have come together, for example, to distribute water filters, conduct water quality monitoring, implement green infrastructure, develop needed workforces, and protect sources of drinking water. To be successful and long lasting, these types of partnerships between water systems and community groups depend on core operating strategies such as robust stakeholder engagement and participation in program design, increasing transparency, and open lines of communication.

River Network and WaterNow Alliance teamed up to find the best of these experiences and learn from them. The following nine communities are part of this initial group:

  • West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Harper’s Ferry Water Commission
  • Heartland Conservation Alliance and Kansas City Water
  • Healthy Community Systems and Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans
  • Santa Cruz Water Supply Commission and Santa Cruz Department of Water
  • Sonora Environmental Research Institute and Tucson Water
  • Schuykill Action Network and Philadelphia Water Department
  • Groundwork Ohio River Valley and Sanitation District Number 1 of Northern Kentucky
  • Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Richmond Department of Public Utilities
  • CHN Housing Partners and Northeast Ohio Regional Sewage District

Based on the best practices we’ve learned so far, and to support the development of new partnerships, we selected three (3) community group/water system partnerships to provide technical and financial assistance to support their shared commitment to growing their partnership and testing out best practices:

  • East Trenton Collaborative and Trenton Water Works
  • River Source and City of Santa Fe Water
  • Friends of the Rappahannock and Defensores de la Cuenca and City of Fredericksburg Department of Public Works – Utilities

For the purposes of this program, “partnership-building project” is defined as “efforts to develop a strong and authentic relationship between a local community group and water system (defined as any local water agency, utility, department or authority that is responsible for managing drinking water, stormwater and/or wastewater) that is built on trust and focused on achieving shared goals related to equitable and sustainable water management.”

We will provide each partnership with $5,000 in funding support and with technical assistance valued at $5,000 to develop and deploy a partnership-building initiative in their community, which could include:

  • Identifying shared goals, benefits, and value
  • Developing new approaches for how water-systems partner with the community
  • Deepening community groups’ understanding of utilities’ roles and responsibilities
  • Evolving water-system roles to more broadly provide community value
  • Creating transparency and systems of honest feedback
  • Restoring trust
  • Including the community in water-system decision making
  • Building off personal relationships to a more formalized partnership
  • Creating continuity and long-term partnership engagement

Support will be provided for five months starting in mid-February, 2021.

Lessons learned from these related efforts will be synthesized into a set of “best practices” to be shared and applied broadly by other communities looking to create similar partnership-based initiatives and increased trust.