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Experts call for regulations to ensure water affordability in US cities

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Jeff Tyson

As the United Nations observes World Water Day to raise awareness about the importance of fresh water and sustainable management of water resources, researchers are calling for regulations to protect water affordability in communities across the U.S. — where private water ownership and state policies favorable to private providers can hike prices.


Mildred E. Warner

Professor of City & Regional Planning and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Mildred Warner is a professor of city and regional planning and an expert on how to promote environmental sustainability at the local level. Warner and a team of researchers studied the 500 largest urban water systems in the U.S. Their findings, published in the journal Water Policy, show that in addition to factors such as aging infrastructure, poverty and severe drought, privately owned water systems contribute to higher water prices and are less affordable, while water prices are higher in states with regulations that favor private investors.

Warner says:

“Water affordability is a widespread and growing problem in the U.S., especially for low income and communities of color. This is not just a problem of aging infrastructure and poverty. Our study of the 500 largest city water systems in the U.S. found private ownership contributes significantly to higher water bills and lower affordability. 

“In addition, we found that water rates are even higher in states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which are adopting regulations favorable to private investors. As private equity moves into the water sector, the focus is on short term profits over long-term sustainability and customer affordability. 

“Of most concern are regulations which value assets above book value to facilitate acquisitions of public systems, and surcharges related to capital costs that enable rate adjustments between rate cases. Our research calls attention to the need for regulations which protect ratepayers and ensure long-term affordability.”
 

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