Water affordability and human right to water implications in California

Authors: Jessica Goddard*, University of California - Berkeley, Isha Ray, University of California - Berkeley, Carolina L. Balazs, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Cal EPA
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Human Rights
Keywords: water, affordability, human right to water, California
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Water affordability is central to water access but remains a challenge to measure. California enshrined the human right to safe and affordable water in 2012 but the question remains: how should water affordability be measured across the state? This paper contributes to this question in three steps. First, we identify five key dimensions of robust water affordability measures: scale, the minimum volume of water needed to meet ‘basic’ needs, household income level, economic vulnerability of households, and criteria for affordability. Secondly, using these dimensions, we develop three affordability ratios measured at the water system level for households with median, poverty level, and deep poverty (i.e., half the poverty level) incomes. We also estimate the percentage of households in each system below poverty and deep poverty levels. Thirdly, we analyze our results by two characteristics of vulnerability in California – water system size and economic status. Using multiple measures conveys a fuller picture of affordability challenges given the known limitations of specific affordability indicators. Our results demonstrate the extent to which water is, on average, more affordable for households at the median income level than for households at the county poverty and deep poverty levels. We identify several water unaffordability scenarios that have different policy implications, such as very small systems with high water bills and low-income households within large, non-disadvantaged community water systems. This paper presents a systematic approach to creating affordability ratios, and represents the first statewide assessment of water affordability in California’s community water systems.

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