News Feature | January 7, 2015

Water Bills Rising Faster Than Other Utilities

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Water utilities are worried that bills will get too high for customers to pay.

Tom Curtis, the leader of governmental affairs at the American Water Works Association (AWWA), explained the dilemma to Governing.

“In addition to the need for infrastructure replacement and big investments required there, we are now coming face to face with a social problem of big dimensions, namely the hardship that these investments are going to impose on customers at the bottom of the income spectrum," he said.

Customers do not see their telephone or natural gas rising at the same rate. Water bills are climbing faster than other utility bills.

"Between 2001 and 2011, water bills grew the fastest as a percentage of income for the poorest customers. Water expenses grew faster than all other utility bills for low-income Americans except electricity. At the same time, though, the take-home pay for low-income Americans has fallen, when adjusting for inflation, Curtis noted," the report said.

Detroit is one city that saw customers struggle to pay water bills in recent years, resulting in thousands of water shutoffs. The city garnered United Nations scrutiny.

“The era of cheap water is really coming to an end,” Curtis said, per the report.

Many critics say water prices must rise in the coming years.

"Water is far too cheap across most American cities and towns. But what’s worse is the way the United States quenches the thirst of farmers, who account for 80 percent of the nation’s water consumption and for whom water costs virtually nothing," according to Eduardo Porter in the New York Times.