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

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    This report represents an important first step in quantifying the extent of the water affordability problem in northeastern Illinois, and exploring strategies for tackling this growing challenge. In northeastern Illinois, water affordability is a growing concern facing all municipalities. In our region, the average water rate grew almost 80% over the past decade (2008 – 2018), rising from an average of $4.05 per 1000 gallons to $7.21 per 1000 gallons, after adjusting for inflation. We see this trend mirrored nationally — from 2010 to 2019, the price of water service increased by 57% in 30 major U.S. cities.1 Since water is a basic human need, when households have to make tradeoffs between paying their water bill and paying for other basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical care), then a water burden exists. How did we get here? Why are rising water service rates challenging our communities? Part of the reason is that our water infrastructure, built over a century ago, has aged and urgently needs repair and replacement. This report reveals that current methods for analyzing and identifying water affordability challenges are currently evolving. The report also highlights important considerations, such as rate setting versus affordability programs and the current legal constraint in Illinois. It is grounded in the belief that addressing water affordability should begin with identifying populations that are burdened because of cost of service, and those that are burdened because of income. This research is meant to begin analyzing and exploring the issue while outlining possible solutions for tackling water affordability in metropolitan Chicago communities. Understanding the underlying causes of increasing water burden is critical to designing an equitable water rate structure and effective water affordability programs. While more research is needed to understand household-level trends, this report and accompanying package of resources represents an important first step in quantifying the extent of the problem in northeastern Illinois, and exploring strategies for tackling the growing affordability challenge.
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    ILIN-T-20-001
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