Dear Customer: We’re Shutting Off Your Water

Our organization, Food & Water Watch, surveyed the two largest public water systems in each state to determine how many of their residential customers had lost their water for failing to pay their bill.
The results shocked us.
The water systems that responded shut off an average of 5 percent of their residential customers, totaling more than a half-million households and affecting an estimated 1.4 million people.
Making the problem worse for people already behind on their bills, most utilities charge reconnection fees to turn the water back on, in addition to a down payment on the past-due amount.
A typical water bill in those cities exceeds $1,000 a year, putting this critical service beyond the budgets of low-income households.
For the poorest fifth of households in those cities, typical water bills amounted to more than 9 percent of their income.
Without any meaningful changes on the federal level, for instance, cities like New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla., will need to continue to raise rates that are already unaffordable for low-income households to maintain and upgrade their water and sewer systems.
A recent study by a researcher at Michigan State University found that if water rates continue to rise as projected, about 36 percent of American households will be unable to pay their water bills by 2022.
States should require public and private utilities to track water shut-offs for nonpayment and reconnections and make that information available publicly on their websites.
Federal policies that adequately fund public water are critical in addressing the interrelated infrastructure and water affordability crises.

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