REPORT: Both Michigan urban and rural communities face water affordability challenges

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)—A new report found that Michiganders in both urban and rural environments face water affordability challenges.

The report looked at water and sewer service affordability at both household and community levels. Experts across the state who developed the report found, that if the water problem is left unchecked, it could exacerbate in the future.

“For some time there are particular communities where water affordability is a challenge,” said Jennifer Read, The Director of the University of Michigan Water Center, a program of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

Read has led research on the new report and says the gap between income and the cost of living will continue to increase.

The report looked at public census information and found between 6.59% and 10.75% of community homes are hit with high water bills.

“It’s based on both data that are available through regularly collected federal processes so federal census data,” Read said. “Specific parts of the census allowed us to look at household level affordability.”

U.S. Census Data

Roughly 20% of wells and 27% of septic systems need to be repaired, or replaced, according to the report.

Septic System Repair

“We need to recognize for folks that are on private wells, for folks who are in mobile home communities that this problem exists,” said Ritchie Harrison, Co-Director, Great Lakes Leadership Academy at Michigan State University’s Extension.

Harrison has helped gather data through civic engagement statewide and says at the moment there isn’t a single solution for water affordability.

“It’s going to impact households,” Harrison said, “it’s something that requires great attention.”

“A lot has changed in the last 20 years and that’s a part of stagnating incomes,” said Noah Attal, Research Associate, University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute.

Attal analyzed the census data for the report and looked at trends in the numbers. He specializes in water sustainability, affordability, and health.

“When you raise rates on people and rates have been increasing by so much and you’re not providing support for those individuals,” Attal said, “and households who really struggle to afford their water bill that’s when it starts to have a real impact on the population.”

The water experts behind this report hope it will get state lawmakers’ attention to talk about ways to improve the water problem in Michigan.

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