Blog

Fri, 11/16/2018

A bipartisan pair of Senators recently unveiled legislation to address the growing crisis of water affordability in America. The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act (S.3564), sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), would establish a pilot program to fund low-income water assistance programs in 32 public water utilities across the country. 

The bill allows for flexibility in...

Wed, 10/10/2018

The city of Baltimore has been a focal point of research on water affordability. Aging water infrastructure and fiscal problems have led the city’s public water utility to continually raise rates, producing an epidemic of water service shut-offs that disproportionately impact low-income residents. Last spring, Haleemah Qureshi published a Master’s thesis examining the financial and social circumstances driving Baltimore’s water crisis. Her research, titled Binding Civil and Civic Infrastructure: The Need for...

Thu, 06/28/2018

Marian Swain

Citing the growing burden that rising water bills present for many American households, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, introduced the Water Affordability Act of 2018 earlier this month. The bill would establish a federal program called the Low Income Sewer and Water Assistance Program (LISWAP) that would provide grants to eligible...

Fri, 04/27/2018

Marian Swain

While many of us are celebrating the start of spring, water affordability advocates are bracing themselves for the onset of another water shut-off season. Water utilities in Northern cities refrain from conducting water service shutoffs during the winter months, but the season typically starts up again in April or May and lasts through October. This year, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is expected to begin sending shut-off notices to residents with overdue bills starting next...

Fri, 03/02/2018

Marian Swain

As rising water bills and devastating water shutoffs continue to plague cities around the country, some local governments are considering comprehensive water affordability programs that would adjust rates based on customers’ incomes. The policy debate around these programs typically centers around how affordability programs would impact utility revenues and how qualifying income thresholds should be set. But in Detroit, there is some concern that an income-based water affordability program...

Tue, 01/16/2018

Marian Swain

Shortly before the New Year, water affordability advocates released a major report proposing solutions to the growing water affordability crisis in Baltimore. The report was commissioned by Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group, and prepared by Roger Colton, a leading water affordability expert and independent consultant. The report comes at an important time as...

Fri, 12/08/2017

Marian Swain

How do we define whether water service is “affordable”? If a water bill is 2 percent or less of a city’s median household income, is that affordable? That is the definition used by the EPA, at least for now.

As part of its authority in enforcing the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency sets affordability guidelines for municipal water and sewer bills. But the current set of guidelines, written in 1997, has come under...

Mon, 11/20/2017

Water protestors in Baltimore

In 2015, Americans were shocked by the revelations that residents of Flint, Michigan had been unknowingly drinking dangerous, lead-contaminated water for months. The city had switched its water supply to cut costs and residents were paying the price. 

A safe, reliable drinking water supply is something most of us take for granted in the United States, but the Flint crisis exposed the grim reality that many Americans do not enjoy water security. In “shrinking cities” across the...