Is your safe drinking water a luxury?

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Guess what this week is? National Drinking Water Week! Here at C3, we love our clean water. Not just at home or at work too–have you ever thought twice about the water that a restaurant serves you? Or what about the water fountain at your nearest park? (Aside from the chewed gum that somehow always ends up in the fountain, the water itself is pretty great!) I take my glass of safe drinking water for granted, at least relatively.

Water Bills-water a luxury in the United states

The Average Monthly Water Bill Across the United States in 2015

But, is safe drinking water a luxury?  

The idea of clean water being an indulgent seems preposterous, until you look at some of the facts. As of last year, the average water bill for a household of four using 100 gallons of water a day in Atlanta was $326 dollars a month. You read that right–each month. The truth is that Atlanta has one of the highest bills in the nation but it’s not unusual for a family of 4 to spend close to 200 dollars monthly across the U.S.

Recently, California put incredibly strict regulations into place about the use of residential water, so households started cutting their water usage dramatically. Entire cities have cut water usage in half.  But what happened to the consumer’s water bills? They continued to rise. Why? Because even though less water was being used, the water programs still need income to run-utilities still have fixed costs, such as bonds and employee salaries. Consumers who are attempting to conserve water are instead facing a pushback with their water districts by being handed larger bills. So people are on average paying more yet receiving less, and let’s be fair–clean drinking water is on the top of my lists as far as basics that I need to survive. It’s just at 200 dollars a month, that’s a lot of cash.

“Fixed costs do not change regardless of whether the utility sells any water or not, such as system maintenance and staff salaries. Variable costs–energy, purchased water, chemicals for treatment–change depending on demand.”

Over the past 6 years or so, the average water bill has increased by about 6%. So for many households, that’s between six and ten dollars. However, in places like Phoenix, the average water bill has more than doubled from $34 in 2010, to $76 in 2015.  At minimum wage, that’s around 12 hours of work after taxes are held-about 3 hours per week.  Between 2000 and 2012, Atlanta’s water bill increased 230%…so no wonder it costs so much to shower and drink a glass of water. At minimum wage of 7.25 in Atlanta, that’s more than en entire workweek each month to pay to drink water, wash clothes, and take showers. During that same 12 year period, Portland, Oregon had an increase of 161%. It’s hard to budget when a water bill continues to rise even as usage decreases.

The reality is, maybe water really is a luxury for many of us. While we continue to fight to conserve water, the high bill is a reminder each month of the value behind safe drinking water.


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