The world has wrestled with the issue of clean water access for centuries, but what happens when it’s available, but too expensive to buy? That’s the very situation one third of Americans will soon face, according to a new study from Michigan State University researchers published this month by PLOS, which reveals water bills could skyrocket from 11.9 percent to 35.6 percent in five years just as World War II-era water infrastructure is expected to break down.
The water affordability issue doesn’t just affect those who can’t pay, but those who can. The latter group could find themselves absorbing increased costs of water utilities, making bill prices soar even higher. At the same time, water costs are already up 41 percent since 2010, and could keep climbing. These two factors could leave an even larger group of people without enough money to afford water. On top of all that, old water infrastructure will need to be updated too, which, according to the study, could cost $1 trillion over the upcoming 25 years.
The issue already impacts people around the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wastewater and water services should only cost at most 4.5 percent of a household’s income. But many families in Mississippi make under $32,000 a year, and according to EPA standards likely won’t be able to afford water bills soon. There are 227,000 customers in Philadelphia, but half are already past due on their water bills. In Detroit, since 2014 service has been terminated for 50,000 people. Private water companies haven’t been able to solve the issue either – in Atlanta people pay a private company $325.52 every month.
There are no easy answers to the growing dilemma. Lead author Elizabeth Mack said consumers, utilities, and governments will have to work together, but the lessons we’ve learned from Flint, Michigan – where as of last month residents still didn’t have access to drinking water from their taps – don’t bode well for the future.