Crisis: Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

America’s water crisis: as with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites.

Aging infrastructure + warming climate = rising prices. That’s the basic conclusion of a new report showing that clean water is getting more expensive in cities across the country — in some cases, far more expensive than what poor residents can reasonably afford for what should be a basic human right.

Rates vary hugely across the country — water will cost you five times as much in Seattle as in Salt Lake City, for example — but on average, the cost of clean water and wastewater services has risen 41 percent over the last five years, according to an examination of national data by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a human rights advocacy organization.

The new report blames rising water costs on a variety of factors, including:

  • Pollution from industry, agriculture, and fossil fuel production, requiring more communities to clean and treat their drinking water. Climate change, by increasing salinity and algal blooms, makes the problem worse.
  • Population growth and drought in the arid Southwest and elsewhere (the new normal due to climate change), which means water is traveling farther to reach consumers, increasing costs accordingly. Drought surcharges can bring a family’s bill above $300 per month in some places.
  • Increased rainfall from climate change in the East and Midwest, which causes flooding and fills water systems with pollution. Detroit struggles with overflowing sewers during heavy rainfalls, while New York City has to discharge sewage into its harbor after a storm. These situations can require costly upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities.

As with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites. “Today, one in every two African-American Michiganers live in cities that violate their human rights to water and sanitation,” the service committee reports. Detroit and Flint, whose water problems have made national news over the past year, have majority black populations, as does Lowndes County, Ala., which has no functioning sewer system.

From an article at GRIST