Water & Equity

Great Lakes Water Equity


In Chicago, the cost of water for the average family of four nearly tripled between 2007 and 2018. Cleveland's rates more than doubled — to $1,317 per year for an average family of four. And families in Detroit paid $1,151 annually. By contrast, that same average family living in Phoenix, which pipes in much of its water from 200 miles away and has been called the least sustainable city in the country, paid about two-thirds less.

 

What’s going on with rising drinking water prices in the Great Lakes?

In early 2018, the Water Main asked: What’s going on with rising drinking water prices in the Great Lakes? That question sparked a collaboration with APM Reports to take a deeper look. The APM Reports team worked with Great Lakes Today – a consortium of public radio stations – for over nine months on the investigation.

The investigative team examined the cost of water in the six largest cities near the Great Lakes – Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo and Duluth – over the past 10 years and found that rates have risen alarmingly fast and that costs are considerably higher than water scarce cities like Phoenix, AZ.

In these six cities, water utilities have issued at least 367,740 shutoff notices in the past decade.

The story of rising water rates in the region is complex. Much of America's water infrastructure was built more than a century ago and is in dire need of replacement. As federal funding for water infrastructure has declined, populations have shrunk, and communities have focused on curbing water pollution, the cost of maintaining and replacing necessary water infrastructure has become out of reach. This results in high water costs for consumers and public health crises related to water contamination.

 

Community Engagement

The Water Main wanted to bring awareness on issues and shed light for ongoing work in under served communities. Unlike more visible infrastructure problems — such as electrical blackouts, dangerous bridges or clogged highways — the spikes in water prices may go unnoticed by Americans not directly impacted by rising water costs.

Despite the lack of national attention focused on rising water costs, local communities have been organizing around the issue of water quality and water affordability for years. The Water Main is working with community organizations, utilities, local government, and residents to organize around water affordability.

Prior to the airing of the national reporting, we gathered with stakeholders in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cleveland to explore solutions. If you have a solution or would like to be involved in our work, please contact us or email us at water@americanpublicmedia.org.

More work is coming to highlight solutions on connecting under served communities with resources.

 

National Reporting

Domitila Valerio with her children, Esmeralda, 9, and Diego, 7, at their home in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.  Michelle Kanaar for APM Reports

Domitila Valerio with her children, Esmeralda, 9, and Diego, 7, at their home in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. Michelle Kanaar for APM Reports

APM Reports

So Close, Yet So Costly

Around the Great Lakes people who are poor are paying the costs for poor water infrastructure. These families are struggling to pay for water costs and experiencing shut offs from water utility companies.The high water costs and poor water pipes are causing burdens for its residents. Read the full report >>

The crisis of water affordability is especially acute where you might not expect it: In cities like Chicago, which overlooks the abundant fresh water of Lake Michigan.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

The crisis of water affordability is especially acute where you might not expect it: In cities like Chicago, which overlooks the abundant fresh water of Lake Michigan. Scott Olson/Getty Images

NPR

A Water Crisis Is Growing in a Place You’d Least Expect It

Times are tough around the Great Lakes regions when it comes to water affordability. Water rates have doubled and tripled in the last decade. The residents around the Great Lakes Region go without running water and try to make ends meet to afford the water bill.  Listen to the national story >>

The half-frozen Detroit River and the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor, Canada.  Lauren Santucci for APM Reports

The half-frozen Detroit River and the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor, Canada. Lauren Santucci for APM Reports

APM Reports

How we did it: Inside our investigation of water rates in six cities around the Great Lakes

APM Reports’ data journalist Will Craft explains how the investigative team goes from asking a question to requesting and interpreting data. Read the methodology >>

 

Local Reporting

Lake Erie,  Elizabeth Miller/ideastream

Lake Erie, Elizabeth Miller/ideastream

WCPN - Elizabeth Miller

As Rates Rise, Cleveland Water and Sewer Grapples With Affordability

Families are paying over $1,000 annually for water and sewer costs. Great Lakes Today and American Public Media take a glance into the water rates and shut offs across the Great Lakes region. Read the Cleveland reporting >>

Milwaukee Water Works employees repair city pipes.  Screenshot/YouTube/Milwaukee Water Works

Milwaukee Water Works employees repair city pipes. Screenshot/YouTube/Milwaukee Water Works

WUWM - Susan Bence

The Price of Water & Not Tending To The Pipes that Deliver It

The cost of water in Milwaukee is among the lowest in the Greater Lakes region, but the water quality needs improvement. Water infrastructure and lead is a huge issue in Milwaukee and finding ways to reduce the amount must be addressed. Read the Milwaukee reporting >>

City of Duluth workers dig into Harvey Street Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, after a water pipe burst during temperatures around 30 below zero.  Derek Montgomery for MPR News

City of Duluth workers dig into Harvey Street Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, after a water pipe burst during temperatures around 30 below zero. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

MPR News - Dan Kraker

Old pipes, rising rates: Duluth and other cities invest in water infrastructure

Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes supporting the city of Duluth. The city has several shut offs and some of the most expensive water within the Great Lakes region. Each year Duluth has approximately 140 water main breaks causing the city $7,000 to repair.  Read the Duluth reporting >>

Image by  JJ Badenhorst

Image by JJ Badenhorst

WKAR - EDITOR

Why Many In The Great Lakes Region Can't Afford Basic Drinking Water

Abundance of freshwater surrounds the Great Lakes cities, but water affordability has increased. WKAR revisits the water affordability report conducted by APM Reports and Great Lakes Today.  Read the reporting here >>

Lake Erie / Great Lakes Today

Lake Erie / Great Lakes Today

WBFO - Angelica Morrison

Water affordability concerns addressed in the city of Buffalo

Lake Erie is a natural source of fresh drinking water for thousands in Western the New York region.  Even though it’s readily available for consumption sometimes hundreds of local residents find themselves going without. Read the Buffalo reporting >>

A Chicago Department of Water Management vehicle outside the Jardine Water Purification Plant last week.

A Chicago Department of Water Management vehicle outside the Jardine Water Purification Plant last week.

WBEZ - Maria Ines Zamudio

Chicago’s water prices are skyrocketing faster than other great lake cities

Every year the Chicago Water Department shuts off water services to thousands of residents. Chicago has the fastest increasing water rate among the Great Lakes Cities. Read the Chicago reporting >>

 

Read More

In California’s Central Valley, many vulnerable communities rely on bottled water due to inadequate infrastructure and water quality challenges.  Photo credit: Community Water Center

In California’s Central Valley, many vulnerable communities rely on bottled water due to inadequate infrastructure and water quality challenges. Photo credit: Community Water Center

US Water Alliance

An Equitable Water Future

This national briefing paper examines the interconnections between water management and vulnerable communities in the United States. Read more >>

Steve Smiley, building and grounds supervisor for the Maywood Park District, said water pouring into a playground through a hose is being pumped from the basement of a nearby city-owned building.  Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune

Steve Smiley, building and grounds supervisor for the Maywood Park District, said water pouring into a playground through a hose is being pumped from the basement of a nearby city-owned building. Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune

Special Report: The Water Drain

In fall of 2017, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles exploring water affordability in the Chicagoland area. Read more >>

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Harvard T.H. Chan - School of Public Health

Report: Lead levels too high in many U.S. schools

According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California., more than 40% of schools around the country have high concentration of lead in their drinking water. Read more >>

@rawpixel    via Unsplash

@rawpixel via Unsplash

The Wall Street Journal

Why Your Water Bill is Rising Much Faster Than Inflation

In the United States water bills started to inflate during the mid-2000s and have increased 5.5% every year. Now communities are trying to catch up and improve their water and sewer infrastructure. Read more >>

Javier Serafin, a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power utility worker climbs on a 144-inch outlet, which connects to an ultraviolet treatment plant that will be completed in 2019.  Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Javier Serafin, a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power utility worker climbs on a 144-inch outlet, which connects to an ultraviolet treatment plant that will be completed in 2019. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Circle of Blue

Price of Water 2017: Four Percent Increase in 30 Large U.S. Cities

Nationwide the water utility rates are rising to pay for infrastructure improvements. It has been reported that 30 large cities in the United States have experienced an increase in water rates. A reported survey displays the increases of monthly costs of water from 2010 to 2018. Read more >>

 

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