CBA Record November-December 2021

ChangingClimate; ChangingEquities The Midwest faces both internal and exter- nal threats to water equity. Internal threats may come from within our own municipalities to be tempted by the prospect of privately managed systems. But as communities like University Park in Illinois discovered, such systems are not always less expensive. Flint, Michigan’s water crisis unfolded as decision-makers without adequate expertise in water man- agement sought to cut costs. External threats such as climate change come from outside our communities, even as our communities contribute to those threats. In our region, we don’t have rising oceans, raging wildfires, or hurri- canes, which leads some people to think this region is insulated from the impacts of climate change. But the truth is that there is no place on the planet—not even our region—that is immune from climate consequences. The Great Lakes have been and will continue to be a tremendous asset to our region and the country. More than 20% of the world’s freshwater resides in these immense bodies of water. But climate change has already pushed Lake Michigan, for example, into uncharted territory. There is a constant battle over the

ecosystem function. Equity is also ensur- ing that no community is dispropor- tionately limited in access to clean, safe water. However, often vulnerable areas, including low-income communities and communities of color, do not have access to clean water to meet their needs because they do not have the resources to afford access. Inequities occur for many reasons. Elected officials sometimes worry about political blow back from raising water rates to reflect the true cost of providing water services. As a result, water services are subsidized from an ever-decreasing pool of resources. And communities or individuals that most need help with financing may not have the capacity to seek it despite resources available under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), state revolving funds, Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, and municipal utility relief programs. Infrastructure funding now being considered by Congress could provide additional relief. Additional barriers to water accessibil- ity are failing infrastructure and poorly managed services. Often, high-quality infrastructure investments are made in wealthier communities because they have the ability to invest, whereas low-income

communities with aging infrastructure suffer from years of disinvestment. In fact, the cost to maintain aging infrastructure is often passed on to consumers in other, more expensive ways, accounting for average residential drinking water bills rising 48% since 2010, exceeding price increases for rent and electricity. (Water, Health, and Equity: The Infrastructure Crisis Facing Low-Income Communities & Communities of Color - and How to Solve It, default/files/CWC_Report_Full_report_ lowres.pdf (last visited Oct 2, 2021)). Water equity isn’t just about access to clean drinking water. It also means access to sanitation and clean water for recreation. For example, although in the past the MetropolitanWater Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) tried to limit access to area waterways, it increasingly recognizes that we must expand public uses of waterways. Pad- dling and fishing along the Chicago River system aren’t just fun things to do. For some, it means an affordable food source to feed their families. It can also mean an escape inside Chicago for those who might not be able to afford to vacation outside the city for family getaways.

Environmental Law Reading Suggestions

The Water Will Come Rising: Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World by Jeff Goodell 2017 Little, Brown and Company (Non-fiction) The Water Will Come is an award-winning book providing a troubling, scientific as- sessment of rising sea levels and what that means in the short term and longer term. Whatever your opinions on climate change, this book addresses the implications of sea-level rise around the world and the choices communities face now and will continue to face in the future. The book drives home the fact that if we do not take dramatic steps to prepare for rising seas, hundreds of millions could be displaced from their homes by the end of the century, and coastal infrastructure valued in the trillions of dollars could be lost.


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