We are excited to announce that three community groups and water systems have been selected to receive Partnership-Building Technical Assistance Grants. These groups represent a diverse range of communities and challenges, and will be provided with technical support to grow their partnerships and pilot trust-building best practices. It is River Network and WaterNow Alliance's privilege to work with the selected cohort over the next several months to develop and deploy their initiatives, with generous support from Spring Point Partners.

Deepening Community Engagement & Extending Partnerships: Friends of the Rappahannock, Defensores de la Cuenca, and City of Fredericksburg Department of Public Works – Fredericksburg, VA

Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) and the City of Fredericksburg have a long-standing partnership which has successfully worked on a wide range of programs and projects to benefit local waterways and communities. FOR provides technical assistance, project support, outreach and education programs, and a myriad of other services and support to many of the City's environmental goals. Through this project, FOR aims to build on this partnership by introducing Defensores de la Cuenca, a Latino focused watershed outreach and education organization, to the Rappahannock River region. River Network and WaterNow’s assistance will help FOR, Defensores, and the City deepen community groups’, specifically the Latino community’s, understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the public works' water programs and ensure the Latino community is engaged in the stakeholder process. The groups’ objective is to develop mutual trust and transparency in how water program decisions and opportunities are made and make sure that information is communicated in a relevant manner (for example, in Spanish). To this end, this project will create a series of outreach events that deepen the Latino community groups’ understanding of the water programs and empower the City to provide equitable strategies for incorporating all community voices into water program planning and decision-making.

Building Trust & Replacing Lead Service Lines: East Trenton Collaborative and Trenton Water Works – Trenton, NJ

The East Trenton Collaborative (ETC) and Trenton Water Works (TWW) have an existing relationship from ongoing work on lead service line (LSL) replacement. Considered to be a “concentrated area of poverty” by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, East Trenton residents are disproportionately burdened by lead exposure in comparison to other communities. Characteristically, chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity, hypertension, diabetes), poor school performance (e.g., 67% graduation rate vs a range of 90 – 97% in neighboring towns), and high crime (e.g., 39 homicides in 2020 was a historic peak) prevail.

To address these concerns, both organizations share a common goal—heightening awareness among East Trenton residents of the health impacts of lead exposure and ensuring residents, particularly young children, are protected. River Network and WaterNow will assist ETC and TWW in meeting their shared goal by mobilizing ETC’s relationship with the East Trenton neighborhood and TWW’s technical expertise in a public outreach campaign that is responsive to the community’s concerns and by beginning to formalize a process for incorporating resident feedback in TWW’s decision-making process.

Developing a Youth Workforce & Leveraging Community Science: River Source and Water Santa Fe – Santa Fe, NM

River Source supports people living as good stewards of their watersheds with education, research and community capacity building. As part of this work, they strategically connect water protection projects with youth seeking natural resource job pathways. City of Santa Fe Water and the USDA Forest Service work closely to address water concerns within the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed. Yet, each agency has priorities that pose barriers to youth jobs development and community engagement/education programs that could help meet Santa Fe’s water challenges. River Network and WaterNow’s work with River Source and City of Santa Fe Water will accelerate creation of a community-based educational program that will include a job pathway and participatory science in watershed and resource management. The project will create new working relationships and experiences that could lead to intersectional collaboration for internships, diversify cultural engagement in watershed management and long-term job opportunities. The project goal is to build trust, community outreach and engagement with City of Santa Fe Water and the U.S. Forest Service. The outcome will be a paid youth crew that installs new participatory science infrastructure and completes data collection needed for riparian assessments for new on-the-ground activities.

We received many strong applications and were encouraged by the clear commitments all applicants had to building trust-based relationships in their communities. If we could, we’d select every single one of them. Public investment in environmentally sustainable water infrastructure is crucially needed for the health and safety of our communities and waterways, and authentic relationships between local community groups and water systems built on trust are vital to achieving equitable and sustainable water systems. We are honored to work with the three pilot communities and contribute to the growing number of examples of these relationships across the country.

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