Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Price of Water

In March of this year, Detroit, MI sent water shut-off notices to 46,000 homes within the city limits. The notices come as a result of failure to pay water fees, which city officials say people can afford but are choosing to avoid. In response, the UN stated that the massive shutoffs were an "affront to human rights." But this begs the question, is access to water a human right, and if so, who pays the costs?

And the costs are rising. In May, Circle of Blue released a study showing that the water fees across 30 U.S. cities increased an average of 33% since 2010. Detroit is actually one of those cities where costs haven't skyrocketed (although they have increased). The fees that are forcing the shutoffs are downright affordable when compared to places like Atlanta, San Francisco, or Seattle. Is it really reasonable to expect poorer residents of these cities to pay $150 a month for water? Especially when much of the cost is being driven by excessive water consumption by the affluent (think posh hotels with water statuary or huge swimming pools)? In the calculus of water rights, how do we decide who gets what, and who goes without?

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