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Setting the Agenda

A Mayors' Guide to Water Affordability

December 4, 2019

Aging water infrastructure systems, climate change, and the general rising cost of urban living mean that access to clean and affordable water is becoming a greater challenge. Cities and water utilities are increasingly faced with a major financial dilemma: increase rates to update infrastructure and price out ratepayers, or keep rates static at the expense of aging and failing infrastructure.


At the fulcrum of this choice sits those most vulnerable to increases in rates: low-to-moderate income households, which are disproportionately made up of women and/or people of color. 


Up to 15 percent of households in America already now pay water bills that exceed the amount defined as affordable by the EPA. Given the increases in overall costs of living in cities, water affordability is a critical issue that threatens the economic stability of our nation’s most economically-vulnerable households. There are longer-term economic and health impacts based in access to water; students miss school because of dirty clothes, lead exposure is linked to violent crime, and lack of access to clean water creates larger health disparities - this impacts the long-term economic wellbeing and general health of cities. 



City leaders should consider this a priority - water access is a human right.


This brief was written for mayors and provides a roadmap to consider water affordability programs as a means to address aging and failing water infrastructure and diminishing access to clean and affordable water. We describe best practices and innovative solutions so that utilities can address the aging state of water infrastructure systems, while also ensuring residents have equitable access to clean water and wastewater services.