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Water & Sewer Bills Skyrocket As Utility Companies Update Outdated Systems

by Countable | Updated on 3.15.18

What’s the story?

Around the country consumers are seeing their water and sewer bills climb exponentially, forcing some to face foreclosure over unpaid bills. The cause? Outdated infrastructure requiring billions of dollars in investment. With no promises of federal help, costs are passed onto consumers.

The Wall Street Journal reports some sobering statistics:

  • The median household bill for water and sewer service rose to $77 a month in 2016 from about $44 in 2006, a 75% increase, according to surveys by the American Water Works Association.

  • A survey of 81 large utilities across the U.S. by the environmental group Food & Water Watch found that 5% of customers—roughly 566,000 households—lost water service because of overdue bills in 2016.

  • The country needs to spend $655 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade water and sewer systems, the EPA estimates.

  • Utilities’ funding comes almost entirely from customers, with the U.S. government providing around 4% of the total.

  • The Trump administration in February proposed increasing federal spending on infrastructure by $200 billion, which also includes roads, bridges and other projects.

Jonathan Cuppett, research manager at the Water Research Foundation, an industry research group, told the Journal that local water providers put off repairs for decades to keep prices low. Now consumers used to relatively inexpensive water are paying the price of years of artificially depressed prices.

Some local governments sell liens from unpaid property taxes and water bills to investors who charge hefty interest rates to resolve the debt. If homeowners don’t pay, the investors can foreclose on their homes.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, in response to public pressure, said the city would no longer send properties to tax sale over water bills alone, but no other municipalities are reported to have taken that step.

What do you think?

What should be done about our outdated water and sewer infrastructure? How should the costs of updates be covered? Should local governments be able to put residents at risk of foreclosure when rates are increasing exponentially? What should Congress do to address this issue?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: TheeErin via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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