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Charting a course for water equity in Kansas City

By Jill Erickson

Green Guard Stewards explore the spillway at Alex George. Jackson County Parks + Rec is converting a man-made lake at the park into a wetland due to damaged infrastructure and excessive sedimentation. Photo by Heartland Conservation Alliance. 

Heartland Conservation Alliance recently hosted a series of community listening sessions to learn about how Kansas Citians access water in their everyday lives.

“We need to understand where to focus efforts and resources,” explained Jill Erickson, Executive Director for Heartland Conservation Alliance. “Our mission is to protect natural resources and make their benefits more accessible to everyone in our community.”

With funding support from the Environmental Protection Agency for the Blue River Urban Waters Partnership, Heartland Conservation Alliance is working with Wichita State University to develop a “Water Equity Roadmap” for Kansas City.

In 2018, the US Water Alliance introduced the Pillars of Equity and the Water Equity Taskforce. US Water Alliance describes the network as “the first-ever cross-sector, multi-city endeavor to intentionally make water management outcomes and processes equitable. Working together, community-based organizations and utilities that participated in the Taskforce developed Roadmaps to describe the challenges they faced and shared priorities and solutions for how to overcome them.”

As a delegate for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership to the US Water Alliance Summit that year, Heartland Conservation Alliance set a goal to adopt the pillars and work toward understanding and defining water equity for Kansas Citians. After researching other city roadmaps, the team started work on a roadmap for Kansas City in 2020 and launched the public outreach campaign this spring.

“We want to listen and catalyze conversation about our infrastructure, our access to water and our needs as a community,” said Erickson. “Collecting feedback from the community is only a first step on this long journey and we plan to reconvene later this summer to share early findings and create an outline for a roadmap for Kansas City.”

At the US Water Alliance they believe that water equity occurs “when all communities: Have access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water and wastewater services; Share in the economic, social, and environmental benefits of water systems; and are resilient in the face of floods, drought, and other climate risks.” If we are going to create a roadmap for Kansas City, we need to work together to define equity for our community.

When completed, the roadmap will provide background on our history with access to water, key challenges facing access to water, promising practices for access to water and recommendations for next steps to completing the roadmap. The first outline will be completed this fall.

You can find more information on how to get involved with the project here. You can sign up to attend the next community listening session in June here.

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