American Water Shut-Offs

As steeply rising water rates have outpaced low-income customers’ ability to pay, especially in cities like Detroit and Baltimore, mass water disconnections and ‘pockets of water poverty’ are signaling the onset of a water affordability crisis in urban America. Rather than joining scholars and advocates in mobilizing against current utility practices, we propose to work with all the relevant stakeholders to invent alternatives to cutoffs. Our aim is to promote financially sustainable and socially equitable solutions that will make drinking water affordable for all urban residents, regardless of their income, class and race. We are working to understand the causes of water cutoffs, the effects they have on different segments of the population and possible ways of avoiding them in the first place, even for families that can not pay their bills.

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Water Shutoffs in Older American Cities: Causes, Extent, and Remedies

We highlight a worrisome situation in American cities—rising water bills that growing numbers of residents cannot afford to pay, leading to water shutoffs. A study of each state’s two largest water utilities suggested fifteen million Americans experienced water shutoffs in 2016. We describe how utility responses to financial challenges facing older cities have caused shutoffs that disproportionally hurt low-income customers. We present new data from public records requests illustrating the scale and distribution of shutoffs in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit, and discuss the potential of income-based pricing to solve the water affordability challenge.

Water operator partnerships: Peer learning and the politics of solidarity in water and sanitation service provision

The limitations of public–private partnerships as a way to finance and manage water and sanitation systems in developing countries have become increasingly evident since the 2000s. In response, scholars have begun to inquire about “alternatives to privatization,” with a focus on strengthening social equity and universality in access to essential services. Among the alternatives discussed are so-called Water Operator Partnerships (WOPs), which have been promoted globally since 2006 with support from the United Nations. Today, more than 200 such peer-learning partnerships have been formed between water and sanitation operators around the world. Yet, academic research on WOPs is still in its infancy. This article reviews the existing literature on WOPs, addressing their origins and their global evolution, along with key controversies surrounding private-sector involvement. Relying on self-reported WOPs data from a global online database, it further illustrates the North–South distribution and the different spatial scales of peer partnerships to date. What emerges from the analysis is that WOPs have become a proliferating, yet insufficiently understood, partnership modality in the water sector. In identifying entry points for future research, the article suggests that the comparative study of WOPs can shed new light on transnational partnerships, South–South cooperation, and the politics of solidarity in water and sanitation service provision.