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Why Being Small is Hard; Big Challenges of Small Water Systems

Access to clean and safe water does not come easily. While we may have mental images of people in distant parts of the world  spending their whole day traveling to and from water sources and preparing it so that it is safe to consume, in the United States, we’ve come to expect clean and safe water at the turn of a tap. This water that flows freely from our faucet didn’t get there quickly, however. In order to provide safe and clean drinking water, systems collect water, treat it through various means, and disseminate it out through a complicated infrastructure system, so that it can show up in our household when we want it. Large urban water systems in the United States may have their own special challenges with consent orders and older infrastructure. But small water systems in the United States have special challenges owing to their size. There are probably more of these “small” water systems in this country than you realize.

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Does When You Pay for it Matter? Prepayment Plans and Conservation

We’re all in agreement that how you pay for it matters, but is it possible that when you pay for it matters too? Some utilities are experimenting with prepayment plans, in which customers pay in advance for a set amount of service. Continue reading

Using Utility-Level Data to Study the Affordability of Water Rates

The affordability of water and wastewater rates is an issue attracting more attention than ever.

In particular, “A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in United States”—a recent paper from Michigan State University— has generated a great deal of debate and dialogue about the issue. The paper is worth reading for yourself, but the primary conclusion is that over the next five years, at least 35.6% of the U.S. population will have combined water and wastewater bills greater than 4.5% of their community’s median household income. One aspect of the paper that stood out to us here at the EFC was the numerator in that calculation—i.e. the combined bill.

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How Two Private Water Companies are Changing New York Water Affordability

The New York Public Service Commission entered an Order Adopting Low Income Modifications in May 2016, which applied to commission-regulated gas and electric utilities in New York. The Commission established within the Order a robust regulatory policy framework for addressing low-income electric and gas customer needs. Despite this major advancement in addressing affordability issues for regulated energy utilities, private water utilities in New York have yet to implement large-scale, low-income water customer assistance programs (CAPs)—but this appears to be changing.

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‘Tis the Seasonal Rates: A Quick Look at Seasonal Rates Across Six States

During my first year at the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) I have worked on water and wastewater rate surveys in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, and Connecticut. While uniform, block, and tiered rate structures are commonly used by water and wastewater utilities, seasonal uniform rate structures are rarely implemented.

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