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Study Finds Water, Sewer Services Cost Day's Wages For Low-Income Families

Even in "water-rich" Ohio, water and sewer affordability is a financial challenge for many residents. [Gayle S. Putrich / ideastream]
Mentor Headlands beach at sunset with seagulls

A new report examining water accessibility in “water-rich” Ohio shows affordability is an issue for residents in both urban and rural areas.

The study from the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Ohio Environmental Council shows that while water costs are essentially the same across the state, households in lower income brackets have more difficulty paying for service.

In nearly 80 percent of Ohio communities, a month of basic water and sewer service costs more than eight hours of minimum-wage labor, according to the report.

The report proposes a few general solutions, says Crystal Davis, policy director for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, including customer assistance programs and “progressive volumetric pricing,” where customers pay a set amount up to a certain threshold and proportionately for each volume beyond that amount.

And there’s a third option: consolidating the roughly 1,200 water systems in the state.

“Utility consolidation can build economies of scale and organizational capacity which reduce costs,” Davis says.

Residents across both urban and rural areas have difficulties accessing and affording water, she says, and rural utility providers can’t reach the same scale of management and infrastructure, so it takes longer to recover from problems and outages.

The report is intentionally light on solutions, Davis says, focusing instead on the severity of the issue across the state.

One issue the report does address directly is the need for more federal funding. In 1977, the federal government contributed 63 percent of the cost of water infrastructure construction and maintenance. Today, that contribution is 9 percent, according to the report.

“These costs are often being passed on to those who can least afford it, disproportionally impacting communities that have historically borne the brunt of environmental justice, with water utility bills doubling or tripling over the last decade in many cities,” the report says.