| Panel: Water policy makers must consider low-income household impacts
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Panel: Water policy makers must consider low-income household impacts

Household affordability should weigh more heavily in evaluating potential drinking water policy decisions, according to a new report from the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

Young child drinking waterThe recommendations in the report, “Improving the Evaluation of Household-Level Affordability in SDWA Rulemaking: New Approaches,” were developed by an expert panel convened by AWWA to expand the evaluation process used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other decision makers when considering regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). 

A key recommendation of the panel is that decision makers focus on households in the lowest 20% of income when evaluating the impacts of proposed policy. Currently, EPA limits the analysis of the affordability of its rulemakings to median household income. This assumes all households can pay the same amount for upgrades in response to regulations, but household affordability varies greatly.

Cary Coglianese“This report offers a roadmap toward improved analysis of a growing water affordability crisis in the United States,” said Cary Coglianese (pictured right), who co-chaired the 10-member panel with John Graham. “Meaningful universal access to safe, life-sustaining water is increasingly put at risk by infrastructure demands and other factors driving up the costs of basic water services.”

Coglianese is a law and political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also directs the Penn Program on Regulation. Graham, a professor at Indiana University, headed the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. Other panel members included researchers, consultants, environmentalists and experts on water affordability and regulatory processes. EPA staff participated as observers.

John Graham“Cost-benefit analysis, as currently practiced under SDWA, does not address affordability for low-income households,” said Graham (pictured left). “This report will help ensure that these vulnerable customers are considered in future rulemaking.”

AWWA convened the panel to spotlight the growing importance of affordability in developing sound water policy. As stated in the report’s foreword, “Understanding the implications of affordability for water policy requires considering both the capacity of low-income households to afford service and the financial capability of community water systems to reliably provide adequate service and make necessary improvements over time.”

Other resources are available on AWWA’s online Affordability resource page. AWWA adopted a policy statement on affordability in 2018.