We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation moment of change, and we commend you and your administration for the quick and decisive actions you have taken to protect public health and safety. The unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic—immediate health issues, households and communities facing financial distress, and the struggle to provide even the most basic daily needs—lay bare societal, racial, and economic inequities that have persisted for far too long. Whether we are confronting COVID-19, climate change, or an economic downturn, these same sustained and structural inequities inhibit our overall progress and prosperity.
Making Illinois more resilient means tackling those inequities head on, because only by doing so will we better manage future shocks and chronic stresses. This is particularly true when it comes to ensuring universal access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water, preventing costly and damaging floods, and investing in the infrastructure and systems we need to manage wastewater and water quality. As your administration, the General Assembly, local leaders, and our D.C. delegates consider additional stimulus and recovery efforts, the Illinois Environmental Council and its members strongly recommend a substantial investment in and rethinking of water resources management throughout Illinois. These recommendations will provide immediate relief to residents and utilities, stimulate equitable economic recovery, and help build a more resilient Illinois.
Six measures stand out as especially important:
- Stop water shutoffs, require water service reconnections; and fund distribution of and access to emergency potable water.
- Provide water rate and fee assistance for low-income households, including debt forgiveness.
- Invest in stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure, prioritizing nature-based solutions, to improve public health while easing housing insecurity and community destabilization.
- Require the replacement of lead service lines throughout Illinois, and establish a sustainable revenue stream to fund workforce training, planning efforts, and replacement costs.
- Fund water-related workforce development programs, as well as staffing assistance and capital project design so low-capacity communities can better access stimulus and pre-existing funding.
- Invest in socially responsible water technology innovation and manufacturing.
Many of these measures reflect a growing national dialogue about the ties between water resources, COVID-19, and pathways to resilience; but we’ve articulated these solutions for Illinois’ context. While some recommendations focus on new infusions of funding, most are about directing available resources where they are needed most, and removing barriers to using them . Certainly more funding for infrastructure is needed, but it is not a sufficient solution. Case in point: If low-income communities cannot access a state loan program, the program is not working right, and, if the program is designed for that to happen, it is propping up inequity.
For a PDF of the official statement