EPA’s Urban Waters Program Meets Local Needs Working with Community Mentors
By Benita Best-Wong
I value how mentors from community-based organizations across the country have shaped the EPA’s Urban Waters program into an enterprise dedicated to meeting local needs. The program’s local leaders have demonstrated that revitalizing urban watersheds best catalyzes economic and social benefits when we unite with local partners and grantees to address environmental justice challenges.
Support to empower communities tackling local environmental challenges work is now in our program’s DNA. Our goal is to help local residents and their organizations, particularly those from underserved areas, restore their urban waters and advance community and economic revitalization.
To back that goal up, this program has committed to advancing environmental justice in all major elements of our work. Urban Waters provides funding to communities through the Urban Waters Small Grants program and through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant program, but we strive to be more than a grant-maker. We’ve found a unique niche that can’t be filled through money alone.
Urban Waters is about people – building human connections, human capital, and supporting initiatives that are greater than the sum of their parts. Through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and the Urban Waters Learning Network, we help communities leverage the abilities and authorities of all our partners, building partnerships across sectors from the local to the federal level to catalyze action and meet our shared goals. In this way, we strive to make sure Urban Waters efforts can be sustained long after an individual project is completed.
These program elements were developed through thoughtful engagement with organizations doing work on the ground. It’s only because these community-based partners raised their voices that we’ve seen such robust partnerships formed and problems solved under the Urban Waters banner.
The urban environmental landscape is dynamic; at times, it’s tough terrain with complex and unique challenges arising where communities, development, and environment intersect. While EPA has come a long way working with environmental justice communities to identify and address challenges and inequities together, we still have plenty of work to do.
All of us in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and the Urban Waters Program consider community voices as critical contributors who shape the way we do business each day. We know we cannot achieve our goals without continued mentorship and guidance from the environmental justice community, and we look forward to taking strides to advance place-based priorities together.
This is why we are so excited for our upcoming Urban Waters National Training Workshop happening July 26-28 in Arlington, Virginia. At this workshop, we look forward to inspiring and strengthening the urban waters movement to build and sustain robust effective partnerships across the country; strengthening our skills in working together with underserved communities to address community-based priorities and environmental justice challenges; and connecting, sharing and learning with other innovators about how to convene, engage and succeed in our partnership work.
To celebrate our community partners, we will be highlighting the work of some of our grantees and workshop participants. So, make sure you come back to learn more about what Urban Waters is doing on the ground!
About the Author: Benita Best-Wong is the Director of the EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds.
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