Tackling Water Affordability in Cities

Aging infrastructure, climate change, regional economic decline, and the new threats posed by COVID-19 have meant a tsunami of financial challenges for cities and their utilities. Maintaining safe yet affordable drinking and waste water continues to be a daunting challenge for many. When not actively addressed, this can lead to an unfair burden on those that can afford it the least: low-to-moderate income households that are disproportionately headed by women and/or people of color. And while the federal debate battles on over infrastructure funding, cities are taking the lead and identifying solutions available to them now. Our water affordability program helps cities do exactly this. 

In partnership with the Water Center at Penn, we launched our first-ever Water Affordability Academy this September, which brought together 15 water utilities (virtually) to support them in their journey to build a sustainable, equitable, and affordable system. Participants included city and utility leaders representing the following cities:

Akron, OH
Anchorage, AK
Boise, ID
Broadview, IL
Burlington, VT
Detroit, MI
Evanston, IL
Grand Rapids, MI
Lansing, MI
Oakland County, MI
West Palm Beach, FL
Rochester, NY
Rockford, IL
Toledo, OH

The Academy focused on the following major topic, both presenting possible solutions while also aiding participants in addressing and overcoming common barriers:

  • efficiency and conservation (both in utility operations and on the customer side); 
  • establishing assistance programs to help certain types of customers; 
  • changing rate structures to more equitably distribute costs based on the ability to pay and in efforts to protect the most vulnerable communities; and
  • how to communicate effectively with the residents that need this support most.

We were thankful to have the following experts and innovative former utility leaders lead the series, sharing their insight and wisdom: 

  • Joanne Dahme, Senior Advisor, The Water Center at Penn
  • George Hawkins, Esq., Former General Manager, DC Water 
  • Andrew Kricun, Former Executive Director, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority & Senior Advisor, The Water Center at Penn
  • Howard Neukrug, Former Commissioner, Philadelphia Water & Executive Director, The Water Center at Penn
  •  Jourdan Nash, Research Analyst, Elevate Energy
  • Jenny Lopez Riley, Associate Director of Marketing, Elevate Energy

One major theme that emerged is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to making water affordable in cities, which is why we look forward to working with participants to provide personalized support as they work to implement their plans. Thank you to the 40 utility leaders that participated! We look forward to continuing to work with you as you tackle this major challenge. We also appreciate the overwhelmingly positive feedback. One participant noted:

“It was small enough that we could interact without being overwhelmed but large enough to have a meaningful discussion on each area/module. I think this is an excellent and cost effective way to bring Utilities together in small groups to share and discuss issues and solutions.”

Spring Water Affordability Academy

We are excited to announce that our second Water Affordability Academy will launch this spring 2021, connecting a new class of cities with the tools and resources they need to make and keep water affordable for their most vulnerable residents. Spots are limited. Sign up to be the first to get all the details.

Sign Up

The Mayors Innovation Project has a number of resources for cities looking to better manage water resources. Click here to get started. 

This work is generously supported by the Mott Foundation.