Households that cannot afford their water bills may lose access to drinking water and wastewater services. This study seeks to quantify how many households may struggle to pay for water services across 787 of the largest drinking water providers in the United States. It finds that basic water services are unaffordable for 17% of households analyzed (28.3 million persons). The authors select 6,000 gallons per month as sufficient to meet basic needs and define undue hardship as spending more than 4.6% of household income (one day of labor each month) to pay for water services.
The 2022 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum explored what must be done to ensure the water sector becomes more resilient to water-related disasters. How can communities navigate and prepare for the impacts of increasingly common water-related disasters. How do we reconcile different values as individuals, businesses, and government negotiate who receives resources to mitigate, adapt, and recover?
A team of researchers from Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering; Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability; and the Nicholas School of the Environment assessed the finances of 301 North Carolina water utilities and identified a significant and growing group of communities facing a conflicting dilemma of water affordability and utility cost recovery.
Water affordability is a growing concern, with inflation, aging infrastructure, source water protection, climate change, and other factors pushing up the cost of providing water. Customer assistance program (CAP) rate discounts provide needed assistance but may not be sufficient to ensure that water services are affordable. Rather than relying on one approach, such as CAPs, a combination of approaches might be optimal for addressing water affordability issues.
Sensitivity Analysis of Using Municipal Boundaries as a Proxy for Service Area Boundaries When Calculating Water Affordability Metrics
Water is essential for life, and yet one of the nation’s most pressing water challenges has become ensuring that water services are affordable for households and communities. While there has been growing attention and concern around affordable water services, the actual scale of the problem remains poorly understood, in part because of the lack of data availability.
The cost of providing water services is increasing, placing greater financial burdens on individual households and utilities. Five metrics were calculated at multiple volumes of water usage and were applied to 1791 utilities, estimating bills from 2020 rates data, to gauge financial burdens in four states. More than a fifth of the population in 77% of utilities was experiencing poverty, suggesting widespread poverty is a major contributor to utility financial capability challenges.
Eleven utilities from across the United States were studied to understand the pandemic's effects on water consumption and utility revenues.
Most utilities in the study saw an overall increase in water consumption with a rise in residential demand that offset declines in nonresidential demand.
Most utilities in the study experienced increased revenues in 2020 compared with previous years, largely due to rate increases, inclining block rates, and an unusually warm summer.
When people and industries leave a community, water utilities face the potential loss of revenue from departing customers and the cost and issues associated with maintaining excess system capacity.
Water systems seek to (1) ensure affordability, (2) maintain high service and quality, and (3) sustain fiscal viability; this creates a trilemma for shrinking cities that can ensure only two of the three.
Addressing Financial Sustainability of Drinking Water Systems with Declining Populations: Lessons from Pennsylvania
This report focuses on the challenges facing water utilities in areas where population has declined in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A total of 16 water systems were broadly analyzed, with in-depth analyses of four municipal water systems in the cities of Altoona, Chester, Johnstown, and Reading. These four cases highlight some of the overall trends and complications faced by shrinking cities.
This paper explores the evolution of water services in the United States. Most people have access to water, most tap water is drinkable, most dams are secure, most farms can grow more with less water, and most rivers are cleaner than they were 50 years ago. Most does not mean all. There is growing evidence that an increasing number of Americans are losing access to safe drinking water and sanitation—and others never had it at all.