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Municipal coalition to fund water infrastructure modernization in disadvantaged communities

By: Ethan Duran//May 9, 2023//

Municipal coalition to fund water infrastructure modernization in disadvantaged communities

By: Ethan Duran//May 9, 2023//

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Milwaukee Workers Memorial Day
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaking at a Workers Memorial Day event at Zeidler Union Square. Johnson, who serves as co-chair of the Cities Initiative Water Equity Commission, said most lead lines happen to be in the Great Lakes region with 80% of North America’s freshwater resources. (Staff photo by Ethan Duran.)

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative on Monday launched the Richard M. Daley Water Equity Award to help disadvantaged communities get federal funding to remove lead lines and modernize water infrastructure. Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who is the co-chair of the Cities Initiative Water Equity Commission, said most lead lines in the U.S. were among underserved groups living in the Great Lakes region.

International engineering firm Stantec will work with Cities Initiative to help connect underserved communities without enough resources and staff to secure public funding for water infrastructure modernization projects, Zion, Ill. Mayor and chair of the Cities Initiative Billy McKinney explained.

Milwaukee Water Works will host a town hall on May 15 for the expansion and improvement of the city’s lead service line replacement program, Johnson said in a social media post. The town hall will take place at the Sherman Phoenix and is the “first of many to come,” he added.

The coalition named the award after the former Chicago mayor because of his lifetime commitment to waterways, McKinney said.

“Mayor Daley founded our organization and his work on water issues is unparalleled on national and international levels,” McKinney added.

The award will help communities with technical writing and grant writing support and help them navigate the typically complex process in applying for and obtaining public funding, coalition officials said. Selected communities will become members of the coalition, which currently includes 180 mayors, to work together and collaborate on water-related priorities, officials added.

Climate change’s impact on communities of color and those experiencing poverty was severe, which was one of the reasons Daley founded the coalition, Richard M. Daley said in a statement.

“Climate change is impacting all of us, but it is having a particularly severe impact on communities of color and those with considerable populations below the poverty line. This is one of the reasons why I helped found the Cities Initiative and continue to fight alongside my colleagues for the protection and restoration of our Great Lakes region. It is an honor to have this award named after me,” Daley added.

The Great Lakes are home to 80% of North America’s freshwater resources, but the most lead lines happen to be in the Great Lakes region where disadvantaged communities live, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson noted.

“The greatest number of lead lines in our country happen to be in the Great Lakes region, particularly within disadvantaged communities. This situation is unacceptable given that the Great Lakes are home to 80% of North America’s freshwater resources. Today more than ever before, there is a need for a collaborative focus on issues surrounding water equity,” Johnson said in a statement.

The Cities Initiative will also address flooding, which underserved communities frequently deal with, officials added. Only 13 zip codes represent three-fourths of the flood damage claims paid in Chicago between 2007 and 2016, where 93% of residents are people of color, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Years of neglect left neighboring Great Lakes cities to deal with floods and other crises, Cleveland Mayor and co-chair of the Cities Initiative Water Equity Commission Justin Bibb said in a statement. “The Water Equity Award addresses these issues in such a way as to provide ideas and solutions for the long-term,” he added.

The Cities Initiative was founded in 2003 and includes more than 180 mayors in eight Great Lakes States, Ontario and Quebec, coalition officials said. It is the largest municipally driven organization focused on issues impacting the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and their tributaries.

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