As federal requirements to meet specific environmental standards drive up water bills in many US households, a joint issue brief from the US Conference of Mayors, the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation proposes that the US Environmental Protection Agency reassess its definition of affordability.
According to the three organizations, EPA’s affordability criteria rely too heavily on median household income and underestimate the effect of rising water bills on low-income, fixed-income, and renter-occupied households.
Released in May 2013, the joint issue brief offers several alternative metrics for better gauging the affordability of water mandates. It suggests the impact on customer water bills should be assessed across entire income distributions, and especially at the lower end,
- as a percentage of income for potentially vulnerable populations;
- across neighborhoods known to be economically at risk; and
- through a variety of other indicators such as the unemployment rate and the percentage of households receiving public assistance.
The mayors and water organizations also released an Affordability Assessment Tool for Federal Water Mandates to help communities consider the many factors impacting affordability and fully understand the implications of the federal water mandates they face. The tool includes worksheets to help communities accurately discern the burden of higher water bills on households at different income levels and with various demographic characteristics.