The water affordability problem slowly sprouting in the United States (US) is exactly what researcher Elizabeth Mack is looking into. Now Mack, along with research assistant Sarah Wrase, have concluded that if the cost of water continue rising at the estimated rate, it is possible that the percentage of homes that will not be able to settle their water bills would triple from the current 11.9 per cent to nearly 36 per cent, more than a third of the population.
At present, about 14 million homes in the US contend with their water bills and a further 27.18 million – around 8.5 per cent – will soon begin to encounter the same threat.
“I don’t think we think about this, about what it would mean to not have running water,” Mack said in an interview with Grist. Certainly, some American citizens have, or are, struggling with it. After all, water affordability is quickly becoming a pressing problem in various cities and metropolises like Detroit, Seattle, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Seattle and Atlanta boast some of the highest prices for water in the fifty states, and approximately four in ten households in Philadelphia are behind water payments. In 2014, Detroit ran a campaign to cease water and sewage services for an estimated 50,000 tardy households. Though this seems like something more of the exception rather than the rule, Mack believes this is the reality the US will be dealing with in the future.
Replacing and renewing the water systems built in the country around 1942 to 1945, during World War II, is predicted to set the country back more than USD$1 trillion over the next 25 years. If the metropolises approach private companies to provide the water services, the prices will surge even higher as they charge higher rates compared to the public providers. But while the vast majority of Americans turn to public utilities for their water supply, Atlanta’s privatised water services forced the increase of water expenses.
However, as public providers can only seek enough payment to recover their costs, funding new infrastructure and systems is difficult for them, but the rates they offer are lower than private utilities, which are not bound by the same restraints.
Other forces behind the steady increments in water prices are the developments in the uncompromising water quality standards, Laura Feinstein, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a worldwide water think tank located in Oakland, said. As national laws are constantly updated to echo recent impurities found in water, so do water services find themselves expending more money on treatments to keep the water safe for consumption and consumers. Other expenses go into managing floods and droughts brought about by climate change.
Currently, water affordability is a grievous obstacle for the low-income population in the US. For the people living in poverty presently, any hike would tighten a family’s finances.
“When people don’t have access to the water that they need, it compromises their health. It means they end up having to make choices between paying for things like medical care and paying for food and paying for water,” Feinstein noted. “Water is essential for life. People should be able to get the water they need at a price they can afford it.”
Sources: Grist, The Huffington Post