Sunday, March 26, 2017

The price of water

In the US there are no federal regulations either guaranteeing a citizen’s right to water or water affordability. Water is already unaffordable for one of 10 U.S. households, a share that’s forecast to triple to more than 30 percent of within five years, according to recent research from Michigan State University. Meanwhile, water and sewer prices more than doubled between 2000 to 2016, outpacing price increases for other basics such as electricity and gasoline.

 Residents in Cannon Beach, Oregon, were warned this month that their water bills could jump 40 percent in 2017 as the city invests in repairs and maintenance to its water systems. Sacramento residents are bracing for bills that could jump 41 percent over five years. And cities including Austin, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, have seen their water rates jump by 50 percent in the past five years

For lower-income households, it could mean having your water turned off,” said Elizabeth Mack, a researcher at Michigan State University and co-author of the water affordability study. “When we reach one-third of households, you are getting people who make below the median but above poverty, or the working class. We shouldn’t be surprised that people in poverty can’t afford anything, and that’s a conversation that goes beyond water. But now you have people already in the national conversation squeezed on health care and job issues,” Mack said. “These people are getting squeezed from a variety of cost perspectives.” 

The nation’s highest water costs are in Atlanta and Seattle, where residents pay an average monthly bill of about $325 and $310, respectively, Mack found. The average U.S. annual water bill is $1,686, or about $140 per month. 

Almost 37 percent of people in Mississippi are in danger of not being able to afford water, based on income data from Census population tracts. Louisiana and Alabama are the second and third most at-risk states.  Mack said that working-class Americans may end up cutting back on eating out or going to the movies to afford water. She added, “You think access to water is a problem only in developing countries, but it’s becoming an issue in some parts of the U.S.”

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