Clean water may become unaffordable in the future

The Athens Messenger / Jim Parsons

The Findings feature at the back of the March 2017 issue of Harper’s Magazine, reported that researchers have found that “In five years, more than a third of U.S. households may be unable to afford water.”

“What??” I chuckled, “That can’t be right. Why would anybody think that?”

The answer has to do not so much with the cost of obtaining water, but with the cost of treating the water to make it safe to drink by removing suspended solids, bacteria, algae, viruses, fungi, and minerals. Also, there is the additional cost of keeping water safe to drink as it travels between the treatment plant and your house. Accomplishing these tasks requires a battery of systems to support physical, chemical, and biological processes. It is costly to acquire, operate, and maintain these systems.

Even so, to reach a conclusion about people not being able to afford water requires us to have some idea of how much water a household needs and at what point its cost would be considered unaffordable as well as what is going to be charged for water in the future. These factors are assessed in a January 2017 article by researchers at Michigan State University. Using publicly available data, here is what they found out.

Based on numbers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and Circle of Blue (which reports monthly water information for a sample of U.S. cities), each American uses about 100 gallons of water a day or 12,000 gallons per month for a family of four. The best available water bill figures are the AWWA’s from 2014: $120 per month or $1,440 per year. Thus, the average cost of water in 2014 was $.01 per gallon.

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