Researchers at Michigan State University predict this figure will rise by $49 over the next five years. And if it does, water may become unaffordable for one-third of American households, according to a study, published recently in PLOS ONE, that maps the U.S. areas due to be hit hardest based on local incomes.
“The project deals with looking at the economic impacts of rising water prices on both households and regional economies, said Elizabeth Mack, an MSU geographer who led the work. When she first pitched the research idea to her colleagues, some scoffed. While water unaffordability is common overseas, Mack said, most assume Americans have the resources and the willingness to do whatever it takes to pay for water.
But rising water prices are quickly eroding this line of reasoning, according to the investigation conducted by Mack and her colleague Sarah Wrase. Two years ago, a survey of 30 major U.S. cities found water bills rose by 41 percent between 2010 and 2015. This dilemma is well-documented in Detroit, where 50,000 households have lost water access since 2014, or in Philadelphia, where 40 percent of the city’s 227,000 water bills are past due.
Mack took these reports and multiple others to expose how pocketbooks could be affected by escalating water prices on a national level. To do so, she peered into an American Water Works Association survey of water utilities across the U.S. in order to determine the annual water bill for an average consumer. The analysis settled on a bill of $120 for nation’s average monthly consumption of 12,000 gallons in 2014, which is based on figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.