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Water Affordability

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.

MPC’s Water Affordability Work

The Water Affordability in Northeastern Illinois: Addressing Equity in a Time of Rising Costs 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.

As an outgrowth of the water affordability report listed above, MPC and Elevate began working with the City of Chicago to conduct a water affordability analysis and identify potential solutions to affordability challenges. This collaborative work resulted in the City of Chicago Water Affordability Analysis report. This report includes an analysis of actual water bill data to better understand the scale and scope of water burden, usage, and affordability. This quantitative analysis was supplemented by interviews with local stakeholders, residents, community advocates, and water utilities in Illinois and other states to offer a more complete picture of water affordability challenges and promising practices.

MPC co-authored the Water Affordability: A Growing Challenge blog with Elevate to consolidate the water affordability reports, highlight key findings, and suggest resources for dealing with high water bills and debt.