Attribute Related Measures: Community Sustainability

1. Watershed-based infrastructure planning

Description: This measure addresses utility efforts to consider watershed-based ap­proaches when making management decisions affecting infrastructure planning and investment options. Watershed protection strategies can sometimes, for example, protect sourcewater quality limiting the need for additional or enhanced water treat­ment capacity.

Example question:

  • Does the utility employ alternative, watershed-based approaches to align infra­structure decisions with overall watershed goals and potentially reduce future in­frastructure costs? Watershed-based approaches include, for example: centralized management of decentralized systems; stormwater management; sourcewater pro­tection programs; and conjunctive use of groundwater, sourcewater, and recycled water to optimize resource use at a basin scale. (See also “green infrastructure” below.)

2. Green infrastructure

Description: “Green infrastructure” includes both the built and natural/unbuilt en­vironment. Utilities may promote source water protection and conservation “green infrastructure” approaches in support of water conservation (e.g., per capita demand reduction) and water quality protection objectives. Green infrastructure approaches can include: low-impact development techniques (e.g., minimization of impervious surfaces, green roofs); protection of green spaces and wildlife habitat; incentives for water-efficient domestic appliance use and landscaping; green building standards such as those promoted through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program; management of energy, chemical, and material use; etc.[1] Utilities often coordinate these efforts with community planning offices.

  • Example question:
  • Has the utility explored green infrastructure approaches and opportunities that are aligned with the utility’s mandate, goals, and objectives and community inter­ests (yes/no)?
  • Does the utility have procedures that incorporate green infrastructure approaches and performance into new infrastructure investments (yes/no)?

Greenhouse gas emissions

Description: This measure will help drinking and wastewater utilities to understand and reduce their individual contributions to area greenhouse gas emissions. Trends indicate that water utility emissions of these gases will likely be of interest to stake­holders. Monitoring of these emissions is becoming more common among water sec­tor utilities, and some utilities are beginning voluntary efforts to reduce their emis­sions (e.g., through production of reusable methane energy by wastewater utilities).
Example calculation:

  • Net (gross minus offsets) greenhouse gas emissions in tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and, as applicable, hydrofluoro­carbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Start by establishing an emis­sions baseline and then track emission trends in conjunction with minimizing/reducing emissions over time, where possible.[2] Emissions inventories often in­corporate indirect emissions such as those generated during the production and transport of materials and chemicals.

4. Service affordability

Description: Drinking water and wastewater service affordability centers on commu­nity members’ ability to pay for water services. The true cost of water/wastewater ser­vices may be higher than some low-income households can afford, particularly when rates reflect the full life-cycle cost of water services. Each utility will want to consider and balance keeping water services affordable while ensuring the rates needed for long-term infrastructure and financial integrity.

Example calculations and considerations:

  • Bill affordability (households for which rates may represent an unaffordable level) (percent): 100 X (number of households served for which average water bill is > “X” percent (often 2-2.5%) of median household income[3] ÷ total number of households served).

Coupled with:

  • Low-income billing assistance program coverage (percent): 100 X (number of custom­ers enrolled in low-income billing assistance program ÷ number of customers who are eligible for enrollment in low-income billing assistance program). (The utility can try to increase participation in the program for eligible households that are not participating.)

More information on resources for this attribute-related measure can be found in the EUM Resource Toolbox.

[1] For more information about green infrastructure, visit
[2] EPA’s industry-government “Climate Leaders” partnership involves completing a corporate-wide inventory of their green­house gas emissions. Information and related guidance is available at
[3] This calculation focuses on identifying low-income households based median household incomes (MHI); however, MHI is not strongly correlated with the incidence of poverty or other measures of economic need. Further, populations served by small utilities in rural settings tend to have lower MHI and higher poverty rates, but fewer options for diversifying water/wastewater service rates based on need compared to larger municipal systems.