Lessons & Opportunities for Local Leaders in New York

Buffalo, NY with Academy Logo

NYS Affordability Academy Launches Next Week!

Maintaining affordable, safe, and reliable water systems is one way mayors can address disparities in their community. But what does your city have control over, and where do you even start? 

In preparation for the New York Water Academy launching next week, our partners at The Water Center at Penn share some guidelines below for mayors and local leaders in New York.

The Academy will be a great opportunity for leaders in New York State to learn from local and national peers, with ample time for individualized support both during and after. Attendees will get the chance to dive much deeper into the below ideas and more.

Learn More & Register for the Academy Now

The Landscape

The core standards for all water service providers in the US are established by federal legislation, like the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and EPA regulations. However, utilities have the ability to expand requirements through State and Department of Health (DOH) regulations. New York City and 36 counties are in charge of the water systems in their areas, while the DOH is in charge of the remaining 21 counties.

In recent years, water rates have risen at a rate higher than the average cost of living, making it particularly hard for low-income residents to pay bills. As our infrastructure ages, the cost of water continues to increase, making it even harder for your residents to pay.

Assistance Programs: Opportunities in New York

Good news for local utilities in New York State: due to extensive Home Rule power, unlike other states, there are no legal barriers to implementing assistance programs based on income (get the basics on what assistance programs are and how they work here).

After discussions with NYS legal experts, we learned the biggest needs in accordance with water affordability best practices in the short term include:

  1. Billing best practices:

    1. Make it easy & transparent. Help residents by making bills clear, easy to read, and transparent in what funds are being used for.
    2. Knowledge is power. Metering allows customers to know how much they are using.
    3. Communicate early and often. There should be no surprises when it comes to rate increases. Be sure to directly engage with your community from day one. Check out Tucson, AZ’s efforts on this.
  2. A Post-moratorium Plan: Some cities—like Toledo, OH—have rolled out debt forgiveness programs for their vulnerable households at the same time that their shut-off moratoriums have ended. 

See The Water Center at Penn’s full report here: Defining Water Affordability in New York State.