Quantifying Racial Disparities in Water Affordability

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Water services are essential‚ for all populations, yet the affordability of water has emerged as a major challenge faced by community water systems. While water costs rise for an increasing number of public water utility customers, there is no mandate to ensure equitable affordability, only guidelines by the EPA. Under EPA guidance, the metric for water affordability was previously based on water costs as a percentage of median household income for the entire area served by a water system. Recently developed metrics quantify the water affordability burden with greater attention to lower income households. Specifically, the Household Burden Index‚ measures the cost of water services as a percentage of low-income households’ annual income. In addition to examining water affordability, it is also essential to assess the presence of inequalities between racial and ethnic groups. As such, this study examines racial and ethnic disparities in the affordability of water services in North Carolina. To determine the racial and ethnic composition of a water utility, this study implements a novel method of fitting block group level US Census data within water utility boundaries established with newly digitized service boundary maps. The study concludes there is a modest but significant correlation between low affordability of water services and higher proportion of black and Hispanic residents in a block group. Community water systems should apply our findings to affordability planning in their service areas.





Sayed, Sara, and Hannah Smith (2021). Quantifying Racial Disparities in Water Affordability. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22703.

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