resources

Read through a database of academic resources on water affordability below.

Report

Concern over water service affordability has grown in recent years as water bills escalate at a faster pace than the overall cost-of-living.While the cost of water has been rising over the past decade, the ability of consumers to pay for water service has declined. This review examines the definition and measurement of water affordability through a chronological search and presentation of the regulatory and research literature. Results will be used to determine a method for measuring water affordability for the northeastern Illinois region.

Journal Article

Rising costs and recent high-profile crises have brought renewed and increasing attention to the affordability of water and sewer service. Meaningful, accurate assessment of affordability is critical as utility leaders seek to serve low-income customers while also raising the revenue necessary to maintain and advance public health and conservation. Unfortunately, the predominant conventional method of measuring household affordability is fundamentally flawed and often misleading. This article advances a more accurate and meaningful method for measuring the affordability of water and sewer service for low-income households. The proposed method accounts for essential household water needs, income disparities, and core nonwater/sewer costs. After detailing the method, the new approach is used to measure water and sewer service affordability in the 25 largest US cities. The article concludes with a discussion of the new method's limits and general guidelines for its use in policymaking and rate design.

Report

Prepared for The American Water Works Association, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, and Water Environment Federation by Corona Environmental Consulting, Galardi Rothstein Group, and Raftelis Financial Consultants.

Journal Article

Many U.S. states and cities have imposed water disconnection moratoriums during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using logistic and Cox Proportional-Hazards models, we assess factors that differentiate which governments imposed moratoriums. States, which have economic regulation of private water utilities, were more likely to impose moratoriums, and those with higher COVID-19 case rates imposed moratoriums earlier. States with unified Republican Control and cities with more 2016 Trump voters were less likely to impose moratoriums on water disconnection. Cities in states without statewide moratoriums, were more likely to impose moratoriums if they had higher income, more minority residents, and more income inequality.

    Journal Article

    While basic access to clean water is critical, another important issue is the affordability of water access for people around the globe. Prior international work has highlighted that a large proportion of consumers could not afford water if priced at full cost recovery levels. Given growing concern about affordability issues due to rising water rates, and a comparative lack of work on affordability in the developed world, as compared to the developing world, more work is needed in developed countries to understand the extent of this issue in terms of the number of households and persons impacted. To address this need, this paper assesses potential affordability issues for households in the United States using the U.S. EPA’s 4.5% affordability criteria for combined water and wastewater services. Analytical results from this paper highlight high-risk and at-risk households for water poverty or unaffordable water services. Many of these households are clustered in pockets of water poverty within counties, which is a concern for individual utility providers servicing a large proportion of customers with a financial inability to pay for water services. Results also highlight that while water rates remain comparatively affordable for many U.S. households, this trend will not continue in the future. If water rates rise at projected amounts over the next five years, conservative projections estimate that the percentage of U.S. households who will find water bills unaffordable could triple from 11.9% to 35.6%. This is a concern due to the cascading economic impacts associated with widespread affordability issues; these issues mean that utility providers could have fewer customers over which to spread the large fixed costs of water service. Unaffordable water bills also impact customers for whom water services are affordable via higher water rates to recover the costs of services that go unpaid by lower income households.

    Report

    We cannot talk about the water affordability crisis without centering the conversation on its disproportionate racial impact,” said Low-income families of color are being forced out of their homes because of rapidly rising water prices. Although there have been important strides in recognizing that access to water is a human right, few studies have explored the effect unaffordable water prices have on Black communities in particular. Americans must think of this crisis not only as an environmental justice issue, but as a racial justice one too.

    Through this groundbreaking research, LDF and the Thurgood Marshall Institute hope to equip advocates with the knowledge necessary to increase access to water and sewer systems for Black families. Water/Color painstakingly lays out the evidence showing how Black communities have been disproportionately impacted by water affordability issues, and provides potential litigation and policy solutions to address the crisis.

    Report

    This survey is a first-of-its-kind nationwide assessment of water shutoffs for nonpayment. Food & Water Watch contacted the two largest water systems in each state to request the number of households whose water was shut off for nonpayment in 2016. We received responses back from 73 utilities.
    Top findings:
    • The average water utility shut off 5 percent of households for nonpayment in 2016.
    • Among responding utilities, more than half a million households lost water service for nonpayment, affecting an estimated 1.4 million people in 2016.
    • An estimated 15 million people in the United States experienced a water shutoff in 2016.

    Report

    The Senate Appropriations Committee, in a committee report on FY 2016 legislative language, directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) to conduct an independent study to create a definition of, and framework for, community affordability of clean water.

    Over the past several years, the government’s ability to provide affordable clean water services to communities and individuals has reached a critical juncture. Aging infrastructure, regulatory obligations and rising costs, and increasing economic segmentation in the United States have adversely affected both water utilities and the low-income customers who use are most vulnerable to water rate increases. The delivery of clean, affordable water requires collaboration across levels of government and the public and private sectors, given the fragmented nature of water governance in this country. Despite the complexity of these issues, numerous creative and innovative solutions have been implemented across the country and provide opportunities to optimize and revolutionize water service delivery operations in the coming years.

    Report

    Between 2010 and 2015, water and wastewater costs rose 41 percent, nearly five times the rate of inflation over that same time period. This has created a crisis of water unaffordability for many Americans, according to a new report released today by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). The report, “The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States,” sheds new light on the breadth of the country’s water crisis, pinpoints drivers of inequality, reveals damaging impacts people face when they can’t afford or access basic water and sanitation services, and argues that real affordability programs can and must be established to ensure that all people in the United States have access to needed water and sanitation services.

    Journal Article

    The peculiar expansion of household-level water-related vulnerabilities in middle- and high-income urban settings is rooted in the weaknesses of institutional governance long criticized by environmental justice advocates, and, in such contexts, materialized in the nature of how drinking water-related crises and solutions are (and are not) defined, particularly with regard to affordability and accessibility.  For example, the traditional perception of the US as an advanced nation with universal water coverage belies a darker truth about the lack of social safety nets for low-income households, including protection against the possibility of water shut-offs, and more insidiously, the threat of losing one’s home to foreclosure when cities choose to sell water liens at auction to the highest predatory bidder.