Access to clean water is a basic human right. Yet for 14 million US households, or 12 percent of homes, water bills are too expensive. And as the cost of water rises, even more Americans are at risk of not being able to pay their monthly water bill.
According to a paper from researchers at Michigan State University, water prices will have to increase by 41 percent in the next five years to cover the costs of replacing aging water infrastructure and adapting to climate change. That will mean that nearly 41 million households — or a staggering third of all US households — may not be able to afford water for drinking, bathing, and cooking by 2020.
There is no law that guarantees water access for poor Americans. And most financial assistance is left to the discretion of individual water utilities. So customers who have fallen behind in payments can have their water services abruptly shut off.
More than 50,000 households in Detroit have lost water services since 2014 because they couldn’t pay their bills. Flint, Michigan, which is still in the throes of a lead poisoning crisis, is now threatening to terminate water services for more than 8,000 people who haven’t paid their bill.
But it’s not just the Michigan urban poor who are at risk.