NTWC believes that the maximum health benefit of water and sanitation services is achieved when:
- Water and sanitation services are available, accessible, and adequate
- Services are properly operated and maintained so that they are safe and adequate and inspire the confidence of the end user
- Water is used for practices that protect and promote health
Why was Our Water toolkit created?
Our Water toolkit was created as a resource for American Indian and Alaska Native communities who operate and manage water systems. As members of these communities, we have unique control over our water – often collecting, treating and managing the distribution of this resource locally. With this control comes the responsibility and opportunity to promote education, behaviors and policies that maximize the health benefits of safe water, and ensure our water will continue to sustain future generations.
Our communities face unique barriers to water system sustainability. We often inherit complex systems with little opportunity to participate in their design and construction, and receive limited on-the-job training for their operation. Some of our communities are geographically isolated, distancing us from materials, resources, training opportunities and technical support. Our systems are also smaller than the average municipal system, serving fewer households and, therefore, generating less revenue from water bills.
Managing any utility has its challenges, but managing and operating water systems is especially complex. Those involved are often faced with learning small utility management, budgeting, public outreach, educational programming, specialized equipment maintenance, water chemistry, sampling and regulatory standard compliance. However, for each obstacle we encounter or goal we set, there is likely another Tribal community who has already successfully managed a similar challenge. We can learn from our broader Tribal community, as well as our local customers, water utility staff and leadership.
The purpose of Our Water toolkit is:
- To connect Tribes with relevant materials, such as: educational materials, fact sheets, formative assessment guides, behavior change guides, water system management models, and examples of Tribal water system ordinances and policies.
- To connect Tribes with each other and other organizations doing great work with Tribal water systems, such as: the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Native American Water Masters Association and Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative. These organizations often facilitate peer-to-peer sharing or offer training opportunities and technical support.
- To support Tribes as they lead initiatives for change in their communities, such as: helping start critical conversations and initiating action-steps to improve overall functioning and sustainability of community water systems.
Who uses the Toolkit?
Communities may engage with the toolkit for a variety of reasons. Maybe there is an important concern, such as: water not meeting regulatory standards or loss of service because a system component has failed. Maybe there is a general desire for long-term improvement of the system and service, backed up by solid action-planning. Maybe the different entities involved in management of the water system have reached a deadlock and need to find new common ground for communication. The toolkit provides resources for identifying and addressing many specific issues commonly encountered amongst Tribal community water systems. It also improves general planning capacity within the Tribe and helps prepare for better responses to future utility issues.
The resources of the toolkit are presented in sections aimed toward the three main stakeholders engaged with water systems: customers, water utility staff and local leadership. Anyone involved with or personally affected by a community water system may lead the kind of initiatives that this toolkit is meant to support. However, due to the complexity and wide reach of many community water concerns, effective initiatives will often require collaboration between all three stakeholder groups.
How do water systems improve our health?
|Determinant of health||Example of water’s influence on each determinant of health|
|Genetics and biology||Water supports the healthy expression of our genes and our biological functioning.|
|Behaviors||When our behavior includes healthy water practices – such as drinking, hand-washing and cleaning – our overall health improves.|
|Culture, family and community||Traditional practices connected to water – such as ceremonies, subsistence activities, recreational activities and gathering water for Elders and family – bring our family and community together to improve health.|
|Home, workplace and environmental conditions||A healthy home and workplace includes access to safe, reliable water. Healthy environmental conditions provide clean water.|
|Available health services and policies||Policies and services that protect water quality and our access to clean water help keep our communities healthy. |
Let us help. Here are some resources for:
Are you part of a household in a Tribal community with concerns about or improvement ideas for your local water or water system?