Michigan Residents Pay Among Highest Water Bills in U.S.
Monday, September 11, 2023
Michigan water rates have surged more than 40% since 2010, and it is a trend that's expected to continue as cities and utilities work to upgrade aging systems.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said people shouldn't be paying more than 4.5% of their monthly income for water and sewer services.
Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder, president and CEO of We the People of Detroit, said water rates can run as high as 25% of some households' income.
"When a person is spending that much just to access water, then we know some other things are being challenged," Lewis-Patrick explained. "In terms of their access to food, being able to pay their rent, clothing, medical needs, those kinds of things."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill to invest nearly $280 million for water infrastructure projects, but Lewis-Patrick argued there is a lot more to be done.
If water rates rise at projected amounts in the next five years, the percentage of U.S. households finding their water bills unaffordable could triple, from almost 12% now, to more than 35%.
A 2021 report in the Journal of Public Health estimated 100,000 Detroit households had been disconnected from water and sanitation services since 2013.
Lewis-Patrick suggested people contact their state lawmakers to ask them to make water affordability a priority, and legislate lower-income households have water bills capped at no more than 3% of their income. She added families should also be protected from water shut-offs while they are going through the process to attain protections.
"We need our legislators and our governor to work in tandem," Lewis-Patrick stressed. "To make sure that we're not only ensuring that resources are going to the utilities, but we're ensuring there's a legislative protection that keeps water on for as many Michiganders as possible."
Last month, after years of public campaigns and $45 million in federal aid, the EPA confirmed Benton Harbor complies with safe water requirements. Almost all the system's pipes were replaced, but residents were told in the next five years, water bills will grow 10% annually.
It is estimated around 200 communities across Michigan are overburdened with the cost of their water infrastructure.
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