Water is essential to life, delivering the nutrients and vitamins we need to live. While water may be portrayed as a basic commodity, some countries, like the United States, could soon see changes in availability. As residents in Flint, Michigan continue to fight for access to clean drinking water, there's also another problem lurking in the pipelines; the rising costs of water rates.
In a recent study published by Michigan State University, the number of American households unable to afford water could triple over the next five years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, household should only be spending 4.5% of their income on water and wastewater services. When researching the MSU team found nearly 12% of households in the U.S. are spending more than they can afford.
It doesn't look like we're going to catch a break either. An annual survey of 30 major U.S. cities, conducted by Circle of Blue, shows the price of water rose 5% last year, adding up to a 48% increase since 2010. Although consumers are becoming more conservative about their water use, we can still expect water rates to keep on climbing as utilities look to invest in infrastructure improvements. The study estimates that $1 billion is needed in the next 25 years to upgrade water systems dating back to the World War II era.
As population rates decrease in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia, the remaining customers are left footing the bill. In cities with some of the highest water rates like Atlanta, Georgia and Seattle, Washington, the water bill costs an average family of four more than $300 a month. That means in order for water to be affordable in those areas, a household must bring home about $87,000 a year, which is 1.6 times higher than the U.S. median household income of nearly $54,000.
Authors of the study published earlier this month in PLOS ONE used a variety of metrics and benchmarks to determine affordability and other calculations. They say their projections are conservative, and that prices could even increase more for households using private water providers.
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