Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Water is Life, So Why isn't it Affordable?

        Prof. Martha Davis sends along this post from Bonnie Smith, Northeastern Law School LLM '18.                                                                                       

Image1The United States (U.S.) prides itself as a developed nation and world economic leader. If this is accurate and “Americans Are Winning ” as voiced by Donald J. Trump, then why are millions living without access to water or in jeopardy of a water shut-off in cities across America?  The reality is an estimated 1.8 million people lack access to water in the U.S. Another almost 14 million households already struggle to afford water … and an additional 27.18 million could soon face the threat of or actual water utility shutoff. By 2022, it is estimated that more than one-third of all U.S. households - 35.6 percent - will be unable to afford running water.  Unaffordable water plagues urban cities and rural communities. While the great majority of families facing this crisis are people of color, predominantly white communities are facing this crisis as well.  The only common denominator between them is that water is unaffordable and deprivation of water consistently and aggressively impacts low income households where many are living, or existing, in conditions which are at-par-with or below the conditions facing individuals in developing nations. People in the U.S. are being deprived of their human right to water.

The current federal administration is complicit in this human rights deprivation as they are not working with U.S. state and local governments to ensure non-discriminatory practices toward low-income public water utility customers. This administration appears to do nothing at all to continue any progress made during the Obama administration, instead seeking to dismantle the federal government's increased role in water protections by ([initiating proposed cuts in] the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget and ignoring the needs of communities plagued with water affordability problems.

The water affordability problem has existed in the U.S. for decades but today the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, coupled with ill-considered policy decisions, are the root cause of the U.S. water crisis. These factors have stunted the ability of U.S. cities to realize solutions for water access concerns. The U.S., by ignoring and allowing the water affordability challenge to persist within its borders, has essentially fostered the development of underdevelopment. Only California and Michigan have declared access to water to be a human right. In all other states, the only ray of hope has come from city governments, non-profit advocacy groups and community members, themselves, who have created awareness and given this crisis an identity. These city governments must align with state governments to take federal government agencies, like the EPA, to task and demand immediate action by way of dedicated federal funding to provide for immediate infrastructure updates and funding to underwrite water affordability programs. Without collective collaboration, there is no doubt the current water affordability crisis will continue to grow and work its way into more U.S. cities.

The U.S. federal government must play a critical role in the human right to water. First, the federal government must consistently and uniformly recognize the right to water and water access as a human right. Next, the federal government must ensure there is safe clean water and also access to running water. It cannot be one or the other. These principles are linked and it would lead to catastrophe if either were ignored. The federal government must act like a leader and provide legislation that will support the right to water for all, without discrimination. The federal government must also collaborate with state and local government and listen to their input to understand exactly how the federal government can support them.  In turn, state and local governments must allow the local community to speak about their experiences and economic inabilities to prevent the introduction of future water utility rate adjustments that customers cannot adhere to and instead, allow for prudent affordability plans. A resource as vital as water is an essential for life and no community, regardless of their income or racial make-up, should ever be denied their right to water.

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