American urban wastewater systems have created environmental burdens, as well as health and safety hazards, in many low-income communities and communities of color. Some utilities are incorporating environmental justice goals as a key component of their capital improvement plans to redress or avert the adverse impacts of their networks and operations.
My dissertation research applies an embedded case study approach to four policy and program interventions that aim to build equity into San Francisco's Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP), a 20-year, multi-billion dollar investment to upgrade the city's sewer system. San Francisco is an appropriate site for exploring how wastewater infrastructure improvements intersect with environmental justice because the agency's Southeast Treatment Plant, which treats 80% of the city’s wastewater, is located in Bayview-Hunters Point, one of the city’s historically African-American neighborhoods. My project involves interrogating the causes and consequences that prompted the implementation of these interventions, as well as the extent to which they have yielded procedural and distributive justice. My methods and theoretical orientation are informed by science and technology studies, political ecology, and environmental justice scholarship.