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Water & Sewer Bills Skyrocket As Utility Companies Update Outdated Systems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 Outdated infrastructure requiring billions of dollars in investment.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What should be done about our outdated water and sewer infrastructure?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)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(52)
  • Azrael
    03/15/2018
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    No kidding Rethugs at every level kept water and sewer bills artificially low to offset taxes They used the funds that should have been put in escrow for infrastructure repair to artificially lower property taxes The money was there It was used to get votes not to make repairs Everyone check every level of government from municipal on up in every jurisdiction The proof is....Follow the money

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  • RadicalModerate
    03/15/2018
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    Legalize cannabis. Tax it. Pay for new infrastructure. Watch cartoons, eat cereal. Done.

    Like (27)
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  • Fred
    03/16/2018
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    Cancel the tax cut. Tax income over 1 million at 50% over 10 million at 70 % and over 100 million at 90% and use that to build infrastructure

    Like (24)
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  • OlderNWiser
    03/15/2018
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    My electric supplier knew the infrastructure was dangerous and got cozy with the Public Utilities Commission to allow them to blow up and burn a city. Meanwhile we users were cautioned to decrease use. My water company has us limit water use, then, just like electricity’s and gas providers, says they aren’t making enough money and they raise the rates. Year after year. Meanwhile employees spend their final year in an office doing nothing , paid supervisor salaries and pad their retirement checks. Out of whose pocket do perks, excesses, safety violations and mistakes come? Always mine. Then, after essentially extorting money from customers, never repairing infrastructure, where do they get the money yet again? Could have been done 2x over.

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  • John
    03/15/2018
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    Tax the wealthy and big businesses and use the recovered money for infrastructure rebuilding. Take money from 45’s wall fantasy. Take some of the over-budgeted military money.

    Like (17)
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  • MinnesotaMom
    03/16/2018
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    Voters need to be smarter. Voting for tax cuts when we know there's work that needs to be done, on utilities, on bridges, on roads is slow death for our cities and towns. You only keep what you keep up.

    Like (14)
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  • Jim2423
    03/15/2018
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    Well when you spend tax dollars to make your town or city look good instead of actually working in good shape this is what you get. Flint, Michigan is a prime example along with NYC subway 🚇.

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  • Joanne
    03/16/2018
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    If there was a proportional increase in taxes on the wealthy, that money could be used for water and utility updates and infrastructure. Instead, the low income and poor get taxed, then asked to pay higher prices, tolls, etc. Also, there needs to be oversight on how these companies are spending their (our) money and transparency and accountability. Are their CEO’s getting Hugh bonuses? Are they spending the money wisely?

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  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    03/17/2018
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    This would appear to be a cost of living increase, therefore, all employers shall be required to increase salaries based on the cost of living increases. Stop corporations from polluting ground water, and taking all water for free, so they can sell at unethical profits, forcing citizens to go off well water and onto public water. Instead of subsidizing utilities, provide tax breaks for individuals to go off grid with environmentally friendly water and sewer treatment options. Place a cap on corporate Executive and upper management compensation, so there is never a need to increase utility rates. Stop performing life in a Conservative way, and everyone can have everything for nearly no cost, and the world and the people and animals would be more healthy and happier.

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  • Ralph
    03/16/2018
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    Years of bad management, compounded by union labor costs and the resulting pension liabilities, have exacerbated the issue. And all voters are to blame for not being more educated and involved ... they haven't held elected officials accountable and were never concerned when the economy and jobs situations were better.

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  • Marylynn
    03/16/2018
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    What's really disgusting about this whole thing is these utilities go to our lawmakers and ask and receive every rate hike, then when they need to upgrade their systems, they get to pass on the cost to their customers. I'm sorry, but as a business owner, I have to pay to maintain my equipment, why don't they. Our lawmakers tend to screw us taxpayers every chance they get and give tax breaks to corporations..

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  • Kmason
    03/16/2018
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    This is BS. Every utility bill comes complete with surcharges and taxes that are supposed to be used to update these systems. They have been collecting these fees for decades but not doing anything to maintain the infrastructure. Where is all this money? Follow the money!!!!!

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  • Amy
    03/16/2018
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    There is always a price for use and service. If we use products, goods and technology, it will age or run out and we'll have to pay to replenish. How about revisiting conservation? No one ever mentions conservation. It's a capitalist curse word. If we don't want higher and higher costs then imagine if every person flushed the toilet one less time a day, how much water would be saved. Water and wear and tear on systems. We Americans should take a good, long look at how entitled we've become. Complaining about rising costs may include us using less. Temperance is a necessary practice for we humans.

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  • JTJ
    03/16/2018
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    I call BS, people are not facing foreclosure because of their water bill. Utilities should be paid for by customers. Infrastructure should be paid for with state taxes. Let municipalities mismanage their own funds.

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  • Carl
    03/16/2018
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    Money spent on a Mexican border wall, military parade, ridiculous tax cuts for the wealthy, weekly trips to Florida, $31,000 dining table, etc. should all go to improving infrastructure. When Russia starts shutting down our electric grids, power plants and aviation, legislators have no one but themselves to blame. Wake up and start putting country above politics!

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  • Leon
    03/15/2018
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    Another example of why the government isn’t working for us. What happened to the funds that we’re collected?

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  • Promise
    03/16/2018
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    So, we take peoples homes because they couldn't pay the outrageous utility bills. We have neglected our infrastructure for far too long. Essential services should not be for profit nor should they be used to cushion a municipalities bottom line. Money that is collected should be put in trust only to be used to pay employees and to pay for repairs. Why is this so hard a concept to understand? And I agree with other commenters about the legalization of marijuana. Regulate it and tax it, our reps have zero political will to raise taxes on anything but sin taxes, so expand that tax base.

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  • Kevin
    03/15/2018
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    Perhaps Adequate Facilities Ordinance and Public Private Partnerships? We should never foreclose on homeowners because of infrastructure costs. Our tax dollars should be directed more towards these repairs to provide basic household utilities to more American families.

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  • Christopher
    03/16/2018
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    The sheer amount of money public utilities take in is unfathomable. Their is no excuse to need more money for anything... simply, they are misusing funds to begin with.

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  • Chickie
    03/17/2018
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    Water is essential to everyday life. Check your water bill carefully and note whether or not monies were collected to keep their equipment updated and sewer pipes clean. A few years back, our water company was purchased by a corporation. This corporation is top heavy with executives who no doubt collect bonuses and sweet retirement compensation packages. These packages will include monies collected to improve our water and sewer systems. If you notice a substantial increase in your water and sewer bills make sure to attend your next borough, town or city meeting to bring this issue to their agenda. By staying silent, these corporations will continue to rob us of an essential living necessity.

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