Water is essential to life. Yet running water is becoming unaffordable across the US, in cities large and small. Water bills weigh heavily on many Americans as utilities hike up prices to pay for environmental clean-ups, infrastructure upgrades and climate emergency defenses to deal with floods and droughts. Federal funding for America’s ageing water system has plummeted, and as a result a growing number of households are unable to afford to pay their bills; millions of homes are being disconnected or put into foreclosure every year.
As we’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic, unaffordable water poses a threat to individual and public health, housing and families. It also poses a threat to water quality: if people can’t afford to pay their bills, utility companies can’t raise the money needed for clean-ups.
What we did
We commissioned Roger Colton, an economist and lawyer who specialises in the affordability of utilities, to analyse the water burden in 12 diverse cities, and his full findings were published in an 88-page report. The metric used to measure affordability is bill burden: water and wastewater bills that cost more than 4% of annual household income were considered unaffordable in our analysis.