Ensuring affordable drinking water for all northeastern Illinois residents
Water service costs are on the rise—nationally and at home
Across the country, drinking water is getting more expensive. Aging infrastructure, resource scarcity, pollution, population change, and a host of other factors all contribute to escalating water rates. From 2010 to 2019, the price of water service increased by over 57% in 30 major U.S. cities. At the same time, household income has been essentially stagnant, particularly for working class wages, and a growing number of households will find their water bills unaffordable as water rates continue to rise.
Water Burden Defined: The percentage of a household’s income that goes toward paying water bills.
Water affordability is a nuanced issue. Solutions start with identifying who is burdened, and why—whether for lack of income, or for expensive service. That's why the Metropolitan Planning Council collaborated with Elevate Energy and the Illinois Indiana Sea Grant to better understand the extent of water burden in northeastern Illinois. While more research and work are needed to understand household-level trends, the following resources our agency partnership produced, represents an important first step in quantifying the extent of the problem in northeastern Illinois, and begins to explore strategies for tackling the growing affordability challenge.
This report highlights our research approach, analysis and findings for where water burden exists in Northeastern Illinois, and provides important considerations and pathways for solutions to the growing water affordability issue we face as a region.
This report provides a review of the definition and measurement of water affordability, as well as a history of the meaning and measurement of water affordability for EPA Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, State Revolving Loan Fund, and Customer Assistance Programs. A review of the criticisms of traditional water affordability measures and suggested improvements from relevant experts is also included.
This report provides a review of policies and programs addressing water bill affordability issues and equitable access to water. Five broad strategies are discussed, including cost reduction, water efficiency, rate design, customer assistance programs, and hard to reach programs. For each solution, a definition, implementation considerations, examples, and potential recommendations are provided. More extensive case studies from a handful of water systems and a brief summary of the reviewed literature are also included.
Water Affordability Dashboard Tool
The following online, interactive tool was designed to assist communities with having a snapshot view of the research findings. Additional, local data analysis should be employed for a more detailed understanding of where water burden may be impacting local community members.