The original interview was posted on HomeServe’s blog.
In 2013, Louisville Water Company founded the Louisville Water Foundation to consolidate ongoing charitable and philanthropic efforts under one banner to pursue their mission of ensuring that everyone has access to safe, clean drinking water and highlighting the value of water.
Annually, the Foundation distributes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to support organizations whose work aligns with the Foundation’s mission. The Foundation’s Drops of Kindness customer assistance program assists customers who have, for one reason or another, fallen behind on their water bill. During the pandemic, the Foundation saw need for the program skyrocket and Louisville Water customers received millions of dollars in relief.
Foundation President Spencer Bruce recently did an interview on the Foundation’s purpose and work.
Q: The Foundation’s mission is a world where safe water is available to everyone, regardless of where they live. What does that look like in Louisville and beyond?
A: It looks like an eight-year-old boy in remote Kenya who has clean, safe water at school to wash his hands. It looks like a seventeen-year-old girl in earthquake-stricken Haiti who has clean water to drink and cook, and it looks like a young mother and father in Louisville who both lost their jobs during the pandemic but can still pay their water and wastewater bills.
Quality of water affects quality of life. Louisville Water Company created the Foundation in 2013 as a separate nonprofit entity with a mission of improving the health and well-being of communities not only in the company’s service area but worldwide. Our reach extends globally through our partnerships with organizations that share knowledge and technology to solve community water problems and to provide emergency help during a crisis.
Q: One of the Foundation’s missions is water education. Please talk about some of the educational programs the Foundation has supported. What does the Foundation hope people will learn? Why is it important that they learn these lessons?
A: From toddlers exploring the properties of water by splashing in a science museum water table to high school students mapping irrigation infrastructure, the Foundation supports a range of educational activities and programs focused on water science. The lessons help prepare a new generation of water and wastewater engineers, and they help all students understand both the need to take care of water sources and the important role water utilities play in their communities.
We also support education that aligns with a range of other subjects, including history, art, architecture, and literature. Students design their own towers after studying the Louisville Water Tower, the oldest ornamental tower of its type in the world. Students even have written poetry about water, and their work reflects an in-depth understanding of its role in our lives.
Q: Please outline some of the water programs the Foundation has supported around the world. How do these programs improve public health and hygiene? How do the Foundation’s partners provide clean water through technical innovation and training? How do these programs benefit the community or provide important training to at-risk populations?
A: We have supported local organizations with a global mission for many years. Louisville-based WaterStep helps people in more than 60 countries, including remote areas of Africa and South America. The organization focuses on water systems, well repair and sanitation through education and technology. They produce portable water purification equipment, such as chlorine generators and bleach makers, and they give communities tools and knowledge that empower them to take care of their own long-term needs.
Just last year, the Foundation provided a grant that helped WaterStep create a Virtual Training Center to serve field workers and community leaders worldwide. We also supported two other Louisville-based organizations that have a global impact: Water with Blessings, which works to make clean water technology available in 48 countries, and Droplet, which received a Foundation grant to help provide clean water to more than 1,300 students at four schools in rural India.
One of our projects this year involves installing rainwater collection systems in Uganda. This project also includes an educational component for students in Ugandan schools.
Q: Larger-scale projects address water stewardship and watershed cleanups. How do these projects fit into the Foundation’s mission of safe water available everywhere?
A: Stewardship of source water is crucial for safe, reliable, and affordable water service. We support organizations that promote sustainability and the practices that help achieve it, such as keeping watersheds clean and managing hazardous waste, including runoff into storm drains. Preventing contamination of source water reduces the costs of treating it.
According to the United Nations, if current trends of wasting and polluting freshwater continue, two out of every three people on earth will face moderate to severe water shortages in about twenty years.
Q: The customer assistance referral program helps those who are behind on their water bill. How many households has the program assisted? Did you see increased need during the pandemic? If so, how were the Foundation and its partners able to meet that increased need?
A: Before the pandemic began, our customer assistance program helped more than 1,000 families a year.
During a typical month before the pandemic, about 2,000 customers were at least a little behind on their water and wastewater bills. Soon after the pandemic began, this number rose to 12,000, and it reached as high as 18,000. A large majority of these customers had never missed even one payment before.
The Foundation quickly began administering special donations and emergency programs for customers throughout Louisville Water Company’s service area. In all, the Foundation distributed nearly $6 million in 2020 and early 2021 through the Drops of Kindness program, which included special utility relief funds from the city. By mid-February of this year, nearly 12,000 customers had received relief credits between $10 and $500. Twenty-four percent of these customers were able to lower their balance to zero, and another 4,200 established payment plans with an average payment of $50 a month.
Q: The Foundation partners with several local community organizations in the Louisville area. How do these partnerships help the Foundation work toward its mission to see safe water available to all?
A: The Drops of Kindness program also offers customers referrals to community agencies that provide support to families and individual customers who need help paying their utility bills. These agencies are in three counties in Louisville Water’s service area.
The Foundation regularly provided customer assistance funding to these agencies even before the pandemic. In 2020, to ensure Drops of Kindness was widely available to customers in a range of extenuating circumstances, the Foundation’s Board granted the president and chair the authority to work with the agencies to temporarily modify or partially suspend certain eligibility criteria for their individual assistance programs.
In addition to the county agencies, the Foundation regularly provides funding for the Salvation Army’s Water Bill Payment Assistance Program.
Q: More than 96 percent of contributions to the Foundation support mission-related work. How does the Foundation keep its operations low-cost and volunteer-led?
We keep overhead low because we provide grants to organizations we can depend on to design projects and deploy resources efficiently and effectively. Our Board includes employees from Louisville Water and Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District as well as the public. Our application and review process is administered by a Grant Committee and includes due diligence to ensure the partner organizations are reputable and in good standing.
For customer assistance, the community agencies that administer the program have a network of volunteers and resources on the frontlines. They also provide case management and leverage their pledge processes to pull in additional community funds and fill any gaps.
For disaster relief, global water assistance, and education, we rely on experts who are uniquely qualified to design, resource, and manage projects addressing specific needs in each of these areas.