Amy McIntosh | Managing Editor | [email protected]
The Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater lakes by area, covering more than 94,000 sq miles. Those of us who live in the region are fortunate that we never face drinking water scarcity due to drought or other water shortages because our backyard supply is plentiful. But while water may not be in short supply, a new report suggests many may not be able to afford the bounty available.
According to an investigation by American Public Media (APM) and Great Lakes Today, water rates have climbed over the last 10 years in the largest cities on the Great Lakes—Cleveland; Buffalo, N.Y.; Detroit; Chicago; Milwaukee; and Duluth, Minn.
In Cleveland, service to more than 40,000 homes and businesses was shut off between 2010 and 2017. In Detroit, the city charges a fee to disconnect and reconnect water services. For families who cannot afford their water bills, these charges are just added stressors on top of an already dire situation.
One man interviewed by APM had his water turned off, but continued to receive bills for sewage and other services he could not use without running water. This is a common scenario. Those already behind on payments get fees piled on top of their already-past-due bills, burying them in thousands of dollars of debt they may never be able to pay—all to receive the basic necessity of clean water.
The report cites a few sources of these rising costs, including aging infrastructure in need of repair or replacement. A lack of federal funding means the cost of these repairs is placed on the utilities, which then is transferred to customers. This funding burden, combined with declining populations in these cities, means higher rates for those left, rates that have doubled or tripled in some cities.
Solutions, it seems, are few. Chicago Mayoral Candidate Gery Chico is calling for a moratorium on shutoffs, as well as assistance programs and payment plan options for those in need. Nonprofits in some cities exist to provide bottled water donations to those without water. But until federal funding comes through to ease the financial burden on cities, residents continue to feel the effects.