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New White Paper Explores Water Affordability Challenges

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Washington, D.C.– Among the most vexing problems for water and wastewater systems in the United States is how to price water services to fully cover costs while maintaining affordability for customers, some of whom may already struggle to pay their bills. Water prices are increasing at more than twice the rate of inflation in some parts of the country, and may trend higher to pay for aging and deteriorating infrastructure and other cost pressures.

In a new white paper published today, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Water Task Force reviews this key issue and offers policy options to ensure that disadvantaged communities have equitable access to critical water services.

The paper identifies four basic strategies for reducing the burden of price increases on the most vulnerable households:

  • Increase government funding or finance water infrastructure outlays and improvements at attractive terms;
  • Subsidize water services for qualifying low-income households or restructure rates to minimize burdens;
  • Promote efficiencies that can lower overall expenses and improve utility management; and
  • Raise consumer awareness about water use and water costs to help households manage their use and budget accordingly.

The policy options outlined in the paper cut across these four strategies and involve federal, state, and local authorities. Broad categories of those recommendations include pursuing regionalization of water systems, forging private sector partnerships, prioritizing asset management, educating the public, and expanding federal and state funding for water and wastewater systems.

If adopted, these recommendations could significantly lower operating costs, encourage the financial sustainability of water systems, and promote improved public health outcomes.

This paper is the third in a series of analyses of key water system challenges. The first paper explored laid out the scope of the challenges, and the second paper dealt with promoting innovation.