The events of the last weeks and months have provided a stark reminder that Jersey Water Works operates within a context of systemic racism. The burdens of failing infrastructure do not impact us equally. The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately damaging the health of communities of color and emphasizing the reality that there are too many that do not have access to basic services like clean water. This inequity is further highlighted by the critical conversations sparked by the murder of George Floyd.

That’s why the work of Jersey Water Works matters. Its work is on solutions.

This moment in history calls us to recommit our energies behind Jersey Water Works’ shared purpose and goals.

Our existence as a collaborative was sparked by the basic fact that combined sewer systems would harm residents, often low-income or people of color, unless they could help shape solutions that would benefit their communities. This is equally true of drinking water systems, as our work has expanded to encompass water infrastructure more holistically.

In response, Jersey Water Works’ founding members adopted the “Smart Infrastructure. Strong Communities” lens to guide its work. We highlighted community benefits in our shared purpose statement, calling out clean water and waterways; healthier, safer neighborhoods; local jobs; flood and climate resilience; and economic growth.

We have in the last year undertaken the hard work of looking inward and confronting the need for internal change so we may successfully ensure equitable water outcomes. We must listen to, engage with, and include those disproportionately burdened, to design and implement solutions to address these disparities. Last year, we began to examine our leadership structure and ways to increase the representation and participation of leaders and experts representing low income and communities of color. This year, we are focusing on altering the composition of the Steering Committee to better reflect our state’s diversity.

Our core purpose, goals and work plan are collectively transforming water systems. We maintain these core areas, but to work toward  equitable, just outcomes. In 2020, we prioritized these project areas:

  • Cultivating workforce development programs across skill levels and ensuring local hiring for CSO projects.
  • Eliminating the risk of lead in drinking water
  • Identifying water-related environmental justice hot spots through mapping
  • Assuring water affordability
  • Ensuring that the CSO long term control plans are implemented in a way to protect environmental justice communities from combined sewage flooding

Recent events only heighten our resolve to provide clean water for all.

As always, we ask members to join us, whether it’s helping with work projects like those listed above, recruiting new members from disproportionately burdened communities, or sharing new opportunities and ideas. Feel free to contact JWW Program Coordinator Lauren Belsky to get connected!

–Jersey Water Works Steering Committee

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