Smart Water Equity: Data-Enabled Affordability and Justice

November 10, 2022

About the speakers

Max Herzog

Program Manager
Cleveland Water Alliance

Max Herzog is an impact professional dedicated to engaging diverse stakeholders in the development of tools and strategies that drive community innovation, equity, and resilience at the regional level. He is currently working at the nexus of intelligent water systems, technology-led economic development, and Great Lake Basin management as a Program Manager with Cleveland Water Alliance.

Ian Robinson

Managing Director

Ian Robinson has been the Managing Director of BlueConduit since 2019. He co-authored a white paper with the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators on principles for using statistical modeling in service line inventory and replacement. Ian oversees BlueConduit’s efforts in supporting communities in their service line replacement programs. He graduated from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment with an MBA/MS, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador from 2009–2012.

Constance Haqq

Chief Administrative Officer
Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Constance T. Haqq joined the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in 2005. She is responsible for the development of the organizations communications and community relations department which include internal and external communications, public outreach, public education, customer service and government affairs. Her team has won numerous national and local industry awards drawing attention to the environmental and community health aspects of the organization’s work. Under her leadership the organization and employee development function at the District was created.

Letitia Carpenter

Senior Program Manager
US Water Alliance

Letitia Carpenter successfully transitioned the Water Equity Taskforce to the Water Equity Network. Including the release of Water Equity Taskforce: Insights for the Water Sector, a report detailing the key elements of cross-sector partnerships. She grew the Network from 7 to 28 cities, building cross-sector city teams working together to advance water equity.

[00:00:00] Max Herzog: Thanks so much for joining us today for the November edition of Waterdata For. Okay, we're at three minutes past the hour. It looks like folks are still joining, but I think we can go ahead and get started. Thanks so much, everyone, for taking the time to join us here today for the November edition of Waterdata For 2022 edition of Water Data For. Water Data For for those who are first time attendees, is a webinar series that's been put on for about two years now by the Cleveland Water Alliance, the Water Environment Federation, and the Midwest Big Data and Innovation Hub. 

[00:00:59]  The purpose of this series is really to demystify various topics within the world of water data engage with experts from a variety of backgrounds and really talk about these issues and how they impact our businesses, institutions and communities, so that folks are really able to understand better, and work better more effectively within this, this really broad impact space of water and data.

[00:01:23] As we dive into today's session, which is called smart water equity data enabled affordability and justice, please feel free to submit questions using the Q&A function. We will have some time at the end for, for Q&A, and we'll be going to the chat or sorry to the Q&A,  to access questions, feel free to drop comments or, you know, discussion points in the chat throughout to engage with folks attending and participating in the session but just know that we're going to go to the Q&A first, to find those actual questions that will pose to the panelists, at the end.

[00:02:08]  Just so that you all are aware, I'm Max Herzog. I'm a program manager with Cleveland Water Alliance. We're a non profit organization based in Northeast Ohio,  but working across the Lake Erie region on issues of water technology and innovation, really thinking about how new technologies and solutions can help address water resource issues faced by Lake Erie communities, and also how can the Lake Erie region leverage these technologies as a business development effort, working to commercialize, and share those solutions with folks that have similar problems and issues across the world. I'll be monitoring today's panel and it's my real honor to have such a robust panel here today.

[00:02:57]  Speaking on these issues of equity and justice, today is Constance Haqq, the Chief Administrative Officer at the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District,  bringing the perspective from a large waste and a sewer and stormwater utility. Ian Robinson, president and COO at Blue Conduit, a really interesting private sector innovator, a technology company, and Leticia Carpenter, senior program manager at U.S. Water Alliance, a national, membership organization and advocacy organization within the water space. So, really excited to have. This robust panel here today, and thanks so much for joining us again. If you want to get more information about the water data for it is an ongoing series. We're in the process of planning next year's offerings now.

[00:03:57] And so if you want to stay updated on this topic, or other topics that we're going to be pursuing in the future.  or even to access the talks from the past. You can find them on the Cleveland Water Alliance website or on our YouTube and the recording from today will be shared in that venue as well.

[00:04:17] I'm going to stop my share here. And with that, I think we can really just dive into the panel discussion here. Thanks again so much for joining us today. Constance, Ian, and Leticia.  I really just want to start with a broad question, which is what does water equity mean for you in your life, but also in your work and and talk a little bit about how systemic issues of inequality and justice play out in the world of water, kind of framing framing these these large scale issues for us, but also relating it to the work that you do within your individual organizations, and perhaps since us water alliances had played such a pivotal role in really framing these issues,  at the national scale, we can go first to Letitia, to hear your thoughts.

[00:05:03] Letitia Carpenter: Thank you, Max, and thanks for having me today. I'm excited to hear what my fellow panelists have to say and for us to create some ideas with you all today.  as Max said, I'm Letitia Carpenter, a senior program manager with the U. S. Water Alliance.  And in the U. S. Water Alliance, I helped to lead the Water Equity Network, which is a national community of practice working to build diverse and cross-sector teams in cities across the United States, working to advance equitable and inclusive water and wastewater management practices.

[00:05:34] So the Water Equity Network, previously the task force, in its pilot days when my fellow panelist Constance helped to really kick a lot of this off,  the network and then task force was established to address the historical legacies of racial injustice. And consequent disparities in environmental health outcomes, specifically the disparities that exist within the water sector.

[00:05:57] Some of these disparities that we are working to address and mitigate include things like the fact that over 2 million Americans are living without water, without access to water or wastewater services. And the fact that race is the single most significant predictive factor in identifying whether or not you will have this access.

[00:06:17] And then also newer research just from 2022, which found that expected changes in flood risk due to climate change are projected to disproportionately impact black populations across the US. So we not only address these past harms and many others that could go on and the legacies that they leave. But we also work to create solutions that minimize harm in the future and result in more equitable outcomes.

[00:06:43] And just a couple quick examples of some of the work that's being done in our Water Equity Network cities. In Milwaukee, they're convening a large group of public and private stakeholders to truly tackle workforce challenges. In Cincinnati, they've completely revamped their customer service practices and it's allowed them to expand their impact and support more and more members of their community. And our Texas cohort is really working to develop a statewide shift towards more equitable practices by highlighting successes and moving away from competition and towards collaboration. But let me take a step back, I think, and share with you what I mean when I say the word equity, because I think I've already said it a couple times.

[00:07:25] And that was really the question. So, when I'm thinking of equity and when we're working towards advancing equity in the water equity network. We really see it as equity, meaning acknowledging that due to our country's history of racial injustice, there are serious disparities in wealth and health outcomes between white communities and black and brown communities.

[00:07:46] And we really only will achieve equity when the outcome of an individual cannot be predicted by their race. Their gender, their sexual orientation, their abilities or other defining characteristics. So then what is water equity? How do we make that shift from this broader understanding of what equity is to how it really relates to our sector?

[00:08:09] How do we apply the fundamental principles of equitable collaboration, equitable government? and equitable access to our sector. In 2017, the Alliance released a report that was titled An Equitable Water Future, a national briefing paper, in order to help answer this question. And we defined water equity as a three pillar concept.

[00:08:29] So water equity occurs when all communities have access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water and wastewater services. When all communities share in the economic, social, and environmental benefits of water systems and the large scale investments that come with these systems, and when all communities are resilient in the face of floods, droughts, and other climate risks.

[00:08:55] And a theme throughout the briefing paper in these pillars is that this type of equity will only be achieved if communities have a role in decision making processes related to water management. In their communities, and so I'll stop there. And Thanks again,

[00:09:09] Max Herzog: Thank you, Leticia. I think, you know, the framing that that you're bringing in at the alliance is bringing at the high level.

[00:09:17] It's really helped the sector kind of understand the set of issues at play here, where these systemic issues impact water specifically, but also the power dynamics that need to be addressed to sort of address them substantively. I think maybe if we could go over to Constance, you know, as a utility that's committed to these issues, that's part of the water equity network. Maybe you could speak a little bit to what water equity means for you all in your work, and how you see it playing out within the water sector.

[00:09:48] Constance Haqq: Thank you, Max very much. And also thank you for allowing us to participate this morning. Leticia did a super job of kind of laying out the definition of equity and the issues and the legacy issues that we as a utility have to confront. So, you know, the water industry and water utilities were not immune from all the society issues that created inequities, you know, the decisions made about who gets what, when and where,  affect us as we look at where the pipes are in the ground and where the issues of water quality exist.

[00:10:26] And so we are paying very close attention to all of those things as we have taken the desire as Leticia,  pointed out for everyone to have clean, safe, affordable water very much to heart. So we are looking very carefully at where we construct,  what projects we undertake and who is involved in the decision making of those projects.

[00:10:53] We spent a great deal of time in 2022 looking at the affordability issues related to water. And we have developed some very aggressive strategic initiatives to include more people in cost savings, making sure that more people are able to keep water in their homes, and in their businesses.

[00:11:20] And so that has been a real passion of ours. And we've also looked at all of our practices related to environmental justice issues and begun to look at how we engage with the public such that it is a two way communication. It's a very truthful communication. It's timely and it's thoughtful. So we are working very carefully with our communities.

[00:11:44] We are a wastewater and stormwater utility. We serve a million people,  61 communities and the city of Cleveland here in Northeast Ohio. So equity is something we talk about almost every day here at our utility, and it is something that we are striving to work with as many partners as possible to make sure that equity is a reality in our community.

[00:12:16] Max Herzog: Thank you so much for those thoughts, Constance, I think, you know, the work that the sewer district is doing really speaks to how this work needs to be progressing at, at the municipality level, at the local and regional level. I'm wondering, Ian, if you could speak, you know, from your perspective, as you know, a technology company, someone that's serving utilities, but also communities, you know, what does, what does water equity look like for you, and your work?

[00:12:42] Ian Robinson: Thank you, Max. And thank you, Leticia and Constance for setting it up and explaining kind of the pillars and how that applies in the utility. Space and as a technology provider to utilities, it is really incbent on us and anybody in the sector to. To be aware and to understand how these systemic issues and underlying inequities are apparent and present everywhere in our society.

[00:13:11] And in particular, in this case, the infrastructure of the provision of safe, clean and equitable drinking water. And so if we are working with data in our case, if we're working with utilities, and we do not go in with that mindset and that understanding of what the reality is, then. We can't help them with the kind of decision that supports the kind of solutions that they need.

[00:13:40] So, in our case, particularly, we work with, helping communities locate their lead to service lines. We're committed to accelerating the replacement. But we also know that that these pipes are going to be more concentrated in our work in vulnerable communities that have not had infrastructure investments made in them over time, where the, that kind of work that would have unearthed that would have revealed the data in time leads to greater uncertainties and unknowns in such a case that those communities are underrepresented in many ways, but in this case in the data that exists to make decisions.

[00:14:18] So we work with the water utilities to help overcome those barriers so that all communities are reflected in the data and they can replace all of the lead service lines. So, that's an example of how it plays out, but really. It's incbent upon all in this sector and those working towards this goal to be aware of those disparities that exist and work with all of the other partners to help overcome them.

[00:14:45] Max Herzog: Thank you, Ian and thanks to all of our panelists for framing these issues at a high level, you know, I think. The way you've laid it out, it's these really society wide systemic issues that are in conversations across a variety of sectors, you know, every day. It's these issues of racial justice, climate change and infrastructure investment.

[00:15:04] There are so salient for folks in a variety of sectors, but particularly for water, since this is sort of the front line of, you know, a lot of folks experience in terms of environmental services and environmental justice or lack thereof, you know, I think Ian, you've sort of tagged us into our particular lens that we're bringing through this series in terms of the role of data in these conversations.

[00:15:28] Right. And I'm wondering if we could maybe start back with you to speak a little bit to  in a little more detail, the role that data analytics and technology have in working towards solutions for these issues. You know, what, what is the role of sort of innovation data, in addressing issues of equity? And what are the limitations of that kind of approach as well? 

[00:15:54] Ian Robinson: Sure. Thank you, Max. And yes, it certainly piggybacks on the first question. When you think about it, I mean, Decisions are going to be made based on data. It's based on the information that's available. The information is used in decision making and any decision that is made can either advance or not all of this advanced equity in the space, and it must be intentional, it must be concerted and it also must be aware of what are the potential blind spots in the information that is there. So, in our case, for example, we talk a lot about the underlying data that the water utility uses to make decisions representative of the entire service area. Do they have enough clarity on their underlying data situation across the system in order to make those decisions in order to do that work and it doesn't just stop at the data that's there, the right data to make those decisions, but how is that data is then used?

[00:17:05] How is that data then shared? So that it's not just about that. Is it the right data? But is it accessible? And is it available for those who need to digest it? And so when we think about that, one example that we've worked on is public facing, making maps of where the service line concentration across communities that we've worked in, knowing that there are maybe internal tools that the water utility might need to use this information.

[00:17:33] And those are going to be different from the external tools that are going to be public facing. So, we have worked with community groups we've worked in Flint and Toledo and made public facing maps really in a co design process, to iterate on a public facing map, understanding that it's not just about making a map, but it's about making a map with a purpose that serves the needs of the community that it's actionable.

[00:17:59] And so having that iterative co design process makes it so that it's not just about getting the data out there and making it public, but it's about making it in having those conversations in such a way that it's useful and usable by the community to make the decisions that they need and empowering them towards being informed and being stakeholders in this conversation in the provision of the safe, clean, equitable drinking water.

[00:18:29] Max Herzog: Yeah. Thank you. And I think you've really hit on some, some really key elements there, you know, both looking at, how biased in the collection and construction of data sets can really reproduce and perpetuate these same issues of of inequity that we're talking about and how that's a component that needs to be addressed, but also how the conversations about how data is used and how decisions are made.

[00:18:53] You know, being able to think about those things as and reframe those processes as more collaborative, and empowering the residents who are ultimately impacted by these decisions to participate more directly,  kind of flipping that power dynamic is a key component. Of addressing these issues in an equitable way as well.

[00:19:12] I'm wondering, Constance, you know, from your perspective, you know, as within a municipality and a collection of municipalities from the utility perspective, how do you see the role of data, playing out in your efforts to address equity?  and, you know, can you speak to some of these issues as well?

[00:19:31] Constance Haqq: Certainly.  We use data a lot for any number of things in our work. Most recently, we've done a series of studies that looked at water quality issues throughout our service area.  So we collected a lot of data,  using technology and also simply walking streams and, following, using computers to go into sewers to see where issues and problems exist.

[00:19:58] But just as Ian is saying, it's not so much the data. It's what you do with the data in terms of coming up with the solutions and who is involved in making those decisions about how that data is used. And so impact becomes a really important issue. The impact of any solution that you come up with, who is it going to affect and how is it going to affect them?

[00:20:22] So as you're looking at solutions, something might look really great from an engineering standpoint but may have a very adverse effect upon a community. And so are we talking to our customers, our neighbors, are we getting their input when we make our decisions? And that becomes really important. And a very simple use of technology also is connecting with people.

[00:20:46] Technology gives us the opportunity to bring people together, to hear from people, to,  you know, in ways that become less onerous. And so I think data just has a really important role in just connecting us with our customers, with our neighbors, and using that input that we gain to make decisions that are sound.

[00:21:14] Max Herzog: Yeah, no, that's really powerful. I think expanding and building on some of these themes that were evoked using data to understand when projects may have inequitable impacts, but also to really hopefully flip some of these power dynamics and get folks more engaged in the decision making process.

[00:21:33] Getting the data in front of residents. And using technology as well to make those points of engagement more robust and more accessible. I'm wondering, Leticia, you know, from the national perspective, how are you seeing data being leveraged in some of the initiatives that you're involved in or are watching closely?

[00:21:56] Letitia Carpenter: Yeah, absolutely.Thank you. And I mean, I'm just so excited. We have folks like Ian and Constance in our sector, really working on this in such incredible ways.  And so I'm just really going to underscore some of what they shared and then share some examples from the Alliance. But, as we were hearing from Ian and Constance, we really have to acknowledge community wisdom as important and necessary for understanding community needs.

[00:22:22] So it has to be technology and community inclusion, like we have to respect and appreciate the importance of that type of inclusion. And so an example from some of the work at the Alliance is in our Preventing Water Shutoffs for Low Income Families pilot project that wrapped a few months ago, and that the report will actually be coming out by the end of this week, so you can read more about this, but, we really worked to use these methods of quantitative and qualitative data analysis to uncover things about the affordability challenges of our communities that we have not known before. And to begin to debunk some of the myths in our sector about the folks who are unable to pay their bills.

[00:23:03] So in this pilot project, we convened teams in each city made up of utility staff and representatives from community based orgs and social service providers. So those working directly with those in need. And we were intentional about facilitating an equitable process. Where in utility solicited the input of community based organizations to make their outcomes better and more informed, just as again, Ian and Constance really underscored.

[00:23:30] So, in this pilot utilities investigated things like the nber of shutoffs, levels of debt, spatial distribution of unpaid bills in their city, both pre and post the COVID 19 pandemic, and then the effectiveness and reach of existing assistance programs. And through some of that data analysis, we found things like in many cities, 10 to 15 percent of accounts that were shut off had had a disconnection in the past.

[00:23:57] Meaning that they were probably dealing with ongoing financial struggle about two thirds of the shut offs that we investigated, got reconnected within one day, but we really need that then begs the question of the next research question. We need to understand how people get that money to be reconnected.

[00:24:15] They may be going without other necessities like medicine or food, or they might even be taking out predatory loans to in order to regain water access, and then they're shut off that lasts for days, weeks or even months, some accounts never got reconnected and one city accounts that never got reconnected made them about 20 percent of shutoff, which were, which utilities then have to write off all of that debt.

[00:24:41]  And we found that the length of shutoffs, also reflect other inequity. So in some cities, shut off times longer than a week are correlated to lower income. One city even found that shut off times were four times longer in the majority black census tract. And we found that shut offs tend to cluster primarily in areas with low income populations.

[00:25:03] So aside from other outliers, it really does look like. Shut off their affecting people who have less ability to pay. And then our community based partners bring in that ground truth thing, that understanding of, so this is what the nbers told us, so what does this look like in my day to day life, in the day to day lives of my community?

[00:25:22] So they were able to identify ways in which qualitative research, like interviews, focus groups, or surveys, help to uncover and, like I said, kind of debunk some of these myths. So they found themes like identifying ways in which they found things like, community members have to deal with things like prioritization of bills.

[00:25:47] We identified the causes of falling behind, so major events, or was it chronic,  poverty, barriers to enrollment and assistance programs. They identified unique needs of their community, relevant trends, and really, how hard it was to reach renters.  And then they also identified ways to establish new or strengthen old relationships with community members and key partners.

[00:26:14] Time and time again, encouraged us to think about how we increase trust with communities in order to support them better. And so, as you can see from all the things that I'm sharing with you, it's both and, you know, we really have to do both sides of it. We have to lean on folks like Ian and folks like Constance and folks like the communities that they represent to truly understand and use the skills and strengths of both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

[00:26:44] And I'll stop there because I really could talk about this forever. But I'll share more maybe in a later time when answering some questions later, from the audience. And again, that report's coming out soon. You can learn even more.

[00:26:57] Max Herzog: Yeah. Thanks so much. Leticia. And no need to apologize for speaking at length at this. It's, you know, really fascinating. And I think powerful information for us to be learning about, and really looking forward to see this report to getting that really in depth, look at it. But I think you're speaking to a couple of really key components, certainly reinforcing what, what Ian and Constance have said, but I think also diving into this idea that, you know, engaging with, with residents, with communities, with folks that are impacted by these issues is not just about flipping that power dynamic and trying to work to address these issues collaboratively, but also recognizing that their stories and their experiences are an essential data input to the process, right? It's not just that, you know, technology companies for municipalities are bringing the data to people and saying, you know, how are we going to address this together? It's that people have a lot of this information that folks in the decision making space need to have in order to really make informed decisions and understand.

[00:27:58] What the equitable equity impacts look like and what the real barriers and pain points are, for folks that are at these most vulnerable positions.  It's a really exciting kind of approach to research that's being taken, that I think speaks to hopefully the role that data can play in addressing some of these challenges, you know, as we start to look at, you know, the impact of the work that you all are doing here today.

[00:28:25] You know, I think it really evokes the question of where will this ultimately go? You know, if we're able to commit the resources that we hope to see and And these projects continue to develop, you know, where do you all see the future of these issues of water equity,  looking like, you know, how might this work change as it builds moment but also as it's perhaps exacerbated by issues like climate change or, you know, changes in infrastructure investment or the state of racial justice in our country.

[00:28:58] You know, how do you see these issues evolving?  And potentially the role of data as well evolving, in these conversations. And I think maybe first we can come back to you, Leticia, to speak at, you know, again, the Water Alliance's level of really being involved in these high level research efforts and keeping an eye on the policy state of things, at the federal and state level.

[00:29:20] Letitia Carpenter: Yeah, absolutely.  So from the U. S. Water Alliance perspective, there are a few levers of impact. So first, if we're thinking about the federal level, how do we hold the federal government accountable to use data and track the distribution of all of the federal funding that's coming out this year? So As many of you know, the bipartisan infrastructure law includes 50 billion for the environment to the EPA to strengthen the nation's drinking water and wastewater systems.

[00:29:49] This is the single largest investment in clean water that the federal government has ever made. So it's our responsibility to hold them accountable and ensure that this money helps those who truly need the assistance. And in this bill, it mandates that a percentage of the funding must go to support disadvantaged communities.

[00:30:08]  Then there's also the Justice boardy initiative that is pushing out this money and impacting the way that this money is being pushed out in order to Confront and address decades of underinvestment in disadvantaged communities. And so how are all of these things going to work together is something we need to be keeping our eye on.

[00:30:28] It's something that we're, you know, advocating for at the US Water Alliance. But we also need to look at how we embed an equity mindset and EJ lens at the state level because the states are responsible for distributing this money. Those are the mechanisms that they're being sent through and these states have to define and create their own definition for disadvantaged communities. 

[00:30:54] As I mentioned before, that's the framing and justice boardy that's the framing and some of the legislation around the bill is disadvantaged community. So how you make that definition really impacts who will be supported and in order to accurately create a definition. To combat systemic injustice and actually target those most in need, the states will have to use data, or at least we hope they will make data informed decisions.

[00:31:21] And so then, locally, how can we empower states and local utilities to truly take action at this moment? In New York, a bill has just been, is about to be passed, actually, that will require utilities to collect data related to affordability. So this is a state level mandate that will require all utilities to collect data related to affordability.

[00:31:45] However, this bill was written and drafted by advocates who did not connect with utility leaders. So there may be things that were not taken into account because there wasn't as much communication as there could have been for reasons that I mentioned before, lack of trust, lack of opportunity, all the things.

[00:32:04] But how can we improve on this in the future? And how are we thinking about this bill in New York possibly showing up in other states? Are utilities prepared to even collect this data? Who might they need to partner with and share resources with to truly, as Ian was saying, collect the right kind of data, use it in the right way with the eye towards equity.

[00:32:26] And thats what brings me to one of my last points, which is moving forward, centering data from the beginning is critical to honestly addressing equity. Some of our water equity network cities are already actively using data to address systemic challenges and work towards a more equitable future.

[00:32:45]  And if we have some time, maybe at the end I can share some examples, but for now I might stop and pass to my fellow panelists to hear their opinion also.

[00:32:54] Max Herzog: Yeah, no, I really appreciate that perspective. There's so much happening at the federal level and, you know, the forces that shape how this money rolls out and how it's how it's dispensed and kind of targeted.

[00:33:06]  You know, really, it's sort of refined points in the minds of maybe the everyday person but their points that shape how these billions of dollars get rolled out and really are going to impact a lot of people in a lot of communities. And speaking to the ways that different stakeholders were not engaged in that process at the state level as well, you know, it really points to the need for this type of conversation and collaboration. I'm wondering Ian, you know, as a technology provider is someone that's, you know, looking for your business to figure out where you can have the most impact in these issues moving forward?

[00:33:47] You know, how do you think about the future of these issues and of equity?  you know, where, where are the opportunities? Where's the excitement and what are the challenges that you might be looking towards?

[00:33:59] Ian Robinson: Yeah, no, thank you, Max. So I think in terms of where is the biggest excitement or the most attention to this in the last couple of years has obviously been through some massive policy opportunities and funding from the federal level between the between justice boardy, which really centers environmental justice in decision making and funding, which  and also the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we see that this is on the minds of utilities in ways that it had not necessarily been before.

[00:34:30] And that is an amazing opportunity as Leticia said, being able to track that, the funding, being able to ensure that we are living up to the promises of what we're hoping to do is, is one thing place where there is a lot of, obviously challenge, but opportunity to make sure that we are doing this in the right way.

[00:34:51]  But I think that another part where it really needs to happen is that much of this is not dependent on federal policy. So much of this is dependent on the, and Constance will speak to this. It is incbent on the internal policies and processes and decisions that are made within the utilities by those who are providing these services to communities that can really move the barometer or move the needle in terms of centering equity in everything that is going on, not just on the funding opportunities that come down, but that these are these are things that are in every practice, or in every decision that the water utilities are making that there is an opportunity to either advance or not the conversation around equity.

[00:35:39] And so the energy is where you see these examples at the local level from individual utilities and employees who are really making this a hallmark or making a commitment to advancing this in their work, because the policies are only going to get us so far and, doing this work just based on a mandate from a policy will not necessarily enshrine it in how our utilities are operating or our mindsets. It happens at the individuals and at the individual utility level to move this forward.

[00:36:19] Max Herzog: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for kind of honing in on that scale of impact and scale of conversation. Obviously, this movement at the federal level and opportunities at the state level can draw the attention of the conversation.

[00:36:31] But, you know, at the end of the day, this is going to be rolled out in communities and at the scale of communities and the way that these issues are experienced at that scale as well.  And so, you know, I'm wondering Constance, if you could speak, you know, from the perspective of a utility that's working with you know, a collection of communities in this case to provide these critical services. You know, how are you thinking about the future of these issues?

[00:36:55] Constance Haqq: Yeah. Thank you. I think that, you know what Leticia said about the federal government and the funds that are coming down, you know, we're really excited about that of course, I'm you know, happy that infrastructure and water infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure is being looked at. But when we did our studies, most recently, we found 3 billion worth of water quality issues right in our own community. In northeast Ohio. So, of course, we would love to have that 3 billion come from the federal government.

[00:37:28] But we as utilities have not really had federal support since the 80s. So, our costs have all come from our local community citizens, customers and neighbors. And so, the real solutions are going to have to be found from the ideas and the investments of our local communities. We're going, we're obviously going to go after every dime we can get to bring into our community from the federal or state level.

[00:37:59] But we also know that we need a strategy that is multifaceted. It cannot be just from one place, will we find the solutions to these issues. So we've, we've been focusing a lot on,  the barriers to, first of all, we have tracked affordability issues for  I don't know, 30 years. So we do have information about our customers, we know where the most need is in terms of cost saving and we've offered cost saving programs for a long time. But lately we've been very focused on the barriers to actually becoming enrolled in cost saving. And so, as I said in 2022 we really focused on that as a central issue, and we've done a series of utility fairs where we invited not only,  the water department to join us, but also,   the,  gas and light providers,  in our community to actually go into a series of community, sessions and actually enroll people on the spot into these programs. 

[00:39:11] So we did six of them this year, and we have served  942 people so far.  It's a drop in the bucket in terms of what the need is, but it is something that has taught us a lot about what the barriers are. Talking, sitting and talking to people has been extremely valuable for our staff.

[00:39:33] To hear from people in terms of what their needs and their issues truly are. And to Ian's point, it informs us as we do our work on a day to day basis. It's our belief that running a Quality Utility is the first thing we can do for all of our customers for equity to make sure that we are making decisions that are, putting the customer in mind,  to make sure that we are operating in a way that's fiscally responsible.

[00:40:09] So we continue to focus on that while at the same time, making sure that all the voices in our community are heard and, are participating in whatever the path forward is when you first asked that question, Max, I thought I have no idea what the future is going to be. I have, you know, I'm thinking, wow, what's tomorrow.

[00:40:32] Yeah, don't know. But I know that we have to stay with the ultimate goal of clean, safe, affordable water. And if we put that in the forefront, we will make the decisions at the micro level, I feel, that will really make a difference.

[00:40:51] Max Herzog: Yeah, I really appreciate that perspective and all the insights you shared there, Constance.

[00:40:56] You know, I feel, you know, from, from all of your thoughts, it seems like, yeah, the future is. It's hard to divine at this stage. It seems like, you know, we're making these big steps as a country to be making, you know, skilled investments in water infrastructure for the first time in a long time and at a scale that's never been engaged before.

[00:41:15] But it's clear also from your comments that This scale is still, you know, woefully insufficient to address the scope of these issues. These are really, you know, big systemic issues that impact so many people, and involve so many,  you know, billions of dollars worth of infrastructure systems that have not received the support that's needed to make these changes and engage with these issues at scale.

[00:41:45]  Historically, and so it feels like we're sort of, at least what I'm getting from your thoughts is that we're sort of at the beginning of the road in a lot of ways,  but that it's exciting that, you know, maybe for the first time as we're, as we're walking on this path, you know, folks at a variety of scales are really thinking about the role of equity.

[00:42:05] And the centrality of equity to you know, delivering on this mission of clean and affordable water and, you know, perhaps more than ever before are considering data as sort of this guide points, that needs to be centered in making these decisions and defining data more broadly, is one aspect that I'm hearing from you all, you know, not just what are the numbers that we get from our meters,  or from the bills that people are paying, but, but these stories that we can hear from community members about their experiences with their bills, with their service and with the programs that are meant to serve them and make these more accessible so that those can continue to be refined.

[00:42:48]  But then also, you know, y'all have spoken consistently to the power dynamics and how people,  like, you know residents that the folks that are using these services and that we're trying to extend services to can be in the room, and have data accessible to them made presented in an accessible way and just available, and also have their voices heard in making some of these decisions so that it's not just, you know, their perspectives being used as data, but their decisions be playing a role in the process.

[00:43:21]  So it's definitely, you know, y'alls thoughts are leaving me kind of, wow, there's a lot of work to do, but it feels like, you know, between the various perspectives that you're representing, sort of some approaches and processes are being laid out to maybe start to tackle these issues in a new way.

[00:43:39]  And in a way that's sorely needed for our communities.  With that, you know, thank you so much for your comments and we can turn it over to the last 13 minutes or so of our session to question and answer from the attendees looking here in the Q&A. And, one person has asked, what are the challenges to data accessibility that you have seen?

[00:44:07] And what do you think are the likely solutions?  it's an interesting and kind of, you know, broad question that I'm sure most of y'all could tackle, but I'm wondering maybe if I could ask Ian to speak to that briefly. First, you know, you've spoken in some of our conversations, Ian, about the role that you've had as a technology company in Co coming into a community, working with the municipality to figure out how we present data to community members?

[00:44:35] What does it mean to communicate, you know, large scale data sets to non data scientists in an accessible way that can actually inform their perspective and help them make decisions?  maybe you can speak to that a little bit first. 

[00:44:49] Ian Robinson: Yeah absolutely. No, it's a great question. And I think when we see what are the challenges to data accessibility. There's both a challenge internally within the utility that the data itself is not accessible to the utility employees. It might be accessible to a small subset. It might live in the mind of somebody who's worked at the utility for 30 years and has never been written down. There's a lot of questions of Accessibility both within the utility, and then externally as well.

[00:45:21] And so I think when it comes to this panel that is, I think, is more focused on the community part, but it's, it's essential that that information be. Be available within the utility to make sure that there are systems and processes and, to extract that information, making it by putting it, you know, not just on a tap card, putting it in a database.

[00:45:43] That is accessible. That is understandable. It has a good data dictionary such that current and future employees of the water utility will be able to understand what it means and what is going on. So that's kind of the 1st. challenge of accessibility is making sure that it's accessible within the utility as a first step to making it accessible more broadly.

[00:46:06] And then when we talk about making these more accessible to the external community, the questions are about kind of, one having a mindset towards greater transparency now, in the federal funding that has become available in the new, letting copper rule. There are mandates for transparency that water utilities are required to make available that there is a need to track and report on the implementation of projects over time.

[00:46:38] So that really is pushing utilities to do this in such a way. And I think where this happens is there needs to be those conversations in that mindset that it's not just about making it transparent. It's about what is the story that is being told?

[00:46:54] How is that data to be used? And you've seen this in different types of collaborations, both between community groups and with water utilities. And it also in water utility professionals and managers themselves, who are committed to these principles of equity. So many of the examples that have come up in what Leticia has been saying, and what Constance has been saying are examples of this kind of engagement.

[00:47:21] Not just about getting community perspectives, but really centering equity, centering the data in at those tables to help tell that story to help make those decisions is so critical. And that's going to happen more and more. So you've got both some policy levers, but you also have those kinds of internal, you know, actors and internal motivations within the utility to make sure that that becomes, something that's available within the utility and beyond.

[00:47:50] Max Herzog: Yeah, no, thank you for sharing those thoughts Ian. I think that's really insightful.We have another question coming in here, from Larry asking Leticia if you could speak more to the issue of getting utilities to come to the table, to problem solve around data reporting requirements for affordability issues. Larry was involved in the law that was enacted in New Jersey and the one pending in New York. But in his experience, it sounds like water systems were not engaged in sort of writing that language or co creating that language as the bill was moving through state legislatures and you spoke to, you know, some of the challenges in terms of now there's new requirements for utilities reporting utilities weren't necessarily engaged in creating those.

[00:48:33] Maybe you could speak a little bit to some ideas around how to get these institutions involved in crafting legislation that's going to impact them. 

[00:48:43] Letitia Carpenter: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's part of the beauty of the cross sector function of the water equity network and that we're trying to, you know, make it more common across the water sector by bringing in new cities and new folks.

[00:48:55]  I think first. It is hard to talk about something when you don't have the information you need. So a lot of utilities don't collect data in a way that helps to inform these types of conversations. A lot of utilities don't or can't even in some states collect personally identifiable information down to the person level around things like someone's ability to pay their meaning like their income level or other opportunities impacting their funds. 

[00:49:32] They also, if you think about the history of our sector, it has been kind of, you know, out of sight, out of mind. No news is good news. Pipes are underground. Let's be like that. Let's, not be, you know, front and center. And so I think that the history of the way the business as usual practices have been going in our sector have led to a moment of needing to really unlearn some practices and relearn how to engage, with community and with these types of opportunities as related to crafting legislation.

[00:50:06] And so in the water equity network, we really support, some of our utility staff and other city staff to, go through trainings on equitable community engagement, to talk about how to make the mindset shifts needed to even begin to engage in these conversations in a way that is safe for the community folks that they're working with that it's that respects the needs of their organization as well, because this is all a balancing act, you know, balancing the needs of our community and also the financial needs to maintain service. And so I think a lot of it is really leaning on the skills and strengths that you do have and being willing to learn and say that you don't know some things.

[00:50:51] Max Herzog: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like, you know, not just building the willingness to engage, but like a capacity building effort to really get these skills in the folks or help the folks that need these skills of engagement and, and understanding the policy side of things,  helping develop that. 

[00:51:09] Letitia Carpenter: Lastly, sorry, Max, just want to shout out like Constance and the utilities that Constance represents have a lot of the skills and strengths and more resources.

[00:51:19]  But there are a lot of utilities across this country who are smaller in resources. And those are the folks that really have a need and and confused support from other folks in other utilities, maybe the big helping smalls or other folks in their communities who do have those skill sets. Sorry, just wanted to shout that out.

[00:51:38] Max Herzog: No, that's a great thought. And in fact, it's sort of a perfect segue into what I think will be our last question here. 

[00:51:45] Constance Haqq: You know, Max, I do want to comment on that.  Leticia is absolutely right. I think the idea of making utilities aware of the needs of the community, but oftentimes I've been in these discussions a lot.

[00:51:59] And, sometimes community leaders and even elected officials are not always as receptive to hearing the issues that the utilities face. Not many people understand, you know, beyond turning on the tap or flushing the toilet, what actually happens and what is needed. And so it also behooves folks to say, Hey we would like to understand a little bit about how this utility actually works and what is required.

[00:52:31]  And not just financially, but also just even mechanically and in the sense of  how,  when you flush it actually does go away and why and where it goes and what effect it has on water quality and all of that. So it is a two way street. I think that is really important to bring out.

[00:52:53] So we've been working really hard to explain, for example, we went through a rate study and, you know, with our partners group that came out of the US Water Alliance work, we had our rate consultant go through A to Z, on how we set rates. So people understand that.   Don't have to agree with it, don't agree with the assumptions, but nevertheless, to know how it actually is done. So I think it's a two way street in terms of that communication. That's all I wanted to share.

[00:53:25] Max Herzog: Absolutely. And I think, you know, it speaks to, you know, the dedication that the sewer district, the Northeast original sewer district is bringing to these issues that you've examined them so closely and started to develop some of these frameworks.

[00:53:40] And I think Leticia pointed out, you know, aptly that there are a lot of communities that may not have centered these issues for so long and also may not be coming from areas where they have. You know, the large constituencies and the larger budgets that allow them the capacity to engage with these.

[00:53:59] And I think that plugs into this last question here, which is, you know, what are some practical steps for utility to get started to identify equity issues and then work to address them.  and it seems to me that, you know, having this capacity and the will to engage with these issues that the sewer district has established something of like.

[00:54:18] Thought leadership here where you have, you know, some concepts and some brain works for how utilities can engage. And I think us water lines are bringing together folks like this, the regional level. So maybe I'll pass it to constant to see if you have thoughts first, and then if we have time, Leticia would love to get your thoughts as well on, how does a utility start, you know, in really trying to go down this road of identifying and addressing equity issues.

[00:54:44] Constance Haqq:  I really think it's just a matter of starting with talking to your customers and you can do that in a random way or you can, you can just do a random sampling and bike people in, for focus groups. I can't imagine that that would cost anything. And, you know, or even get them on zoom or, you know, teams and start talking to people and asking questions.

[00:55:05] And I think that, and then I, you know, I recently spoke to the head of our city council here in Cleveland and he talked about how important it is to go where people are. So, you know, we've had construction projects throughout the, what's called the inner city of our community and we've done pop ups where we'll go and sit on a corner where one of our construction projects is and put chairs up and people come by and we talk to them about what's going on right in their community.

[00:55:37]  Or you go to where they are, like the grocery store, because that's someplace everybody goes. And, you know, you put a table up and, and you talk to people about what their issues are around water. So going to people where they are, I think is the first, and asking questions and listening, I think is the first step, or could be a first step.

[00:55:57] Max Herzog: Yeah, absolutely. I know we're just like one minute left. We could go a minute over. Leticia, if you have any thoughts you want to share as we wrap up here. 

[00:56:06] Letitia Carpenter: Well, what Constance shared is amazing. You don't know what you don't know. So get out there and ask. And also I think there are other data collections and that an analysis you could do like disparity studies to truly understand how you're distributing funds.

[00:56:21] Who is receiving contracts, how are you know go through your procurement and contracting data as well to see not only how are you impacting your customers or your rate payers as we like to call them in the sector, but also how are you impacting your local businesses and those that could truly benefit and find multiple benefits from the large scale infrastructure investments that we have.

[00:56:44] And what we do at the U. S. Water Alliance real quick is lead our water equity network cities through things called opportunity briefs. So we really identify what utilities and municipalities are already doing that they might not even be considering as an equitable practice, but it is. So how do we build on that?

[00:57:03] How do we enhance that? Knowing what we can learn from folks like Conte. From folks like Ian, how do we replicate and increase the advancement of water equity by being more efficient and more effective through peer to peer knowledge exchange and cross sector learning?

[00:57:22] Max Herzog: Excellent. Thanks so much for sharing those thoughts.

[00:57:24] And wow, you did a great job of keeping that precise and consice. Thank you all so much. Really appreciate you taking the time today to share your experience, your perspective on these issues, a little bit about your work and your hopes and visions for the future. It's been tremendously educational for me.

[00:57:43] And I hope that the folks that have taken time with us here today have learned something as well. Thanks to everyone who's taken the time to participate in the session to share your questions. We will be sharing the recording of this session out to all the folks that registered. They'll also be available, on the Cleveland Water Alliances website and on YouTube.

[00:58:01] So feel free to share this with any folks that want to learn more about these issues.  And feel free to reach out to our speakers, get engaged in the water equity network, you know, look to see if you might need some lead line replacement support, or, you know, this thought leadership that the sewer district has really been able to bring, at our local regional level in Northeast Ohio. But thanks again once more to our speakers and, I hope that everyone has a great rest of their day.