Affordable Water

High water bill in Detroit (Photo Credit: J Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue)

Water and sanitation are essential services that people cannot do without and they must be made affordable.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency suggests that water and sewer bills should not comprise more than 4.5% of median household income. Currently in Detroit, residents are paying upwards of 10% of their income towards water and sewer bills. 


Water affordability vs. water assistance

  • Assistance: The need is typically short-term and temporary, and can oftentimes be resolved with emergency financial aid. The household is generally deemed to have the ability to recover and continue to meet their basic needs and more. Assistance program funds are usually offered one per year.

  • Affordability: The need is long-term and chronic, and most often requires extensive and on-going aid. The household is typically unable to keep up with the cost of bills and growing rates, and requires payments based on their low-income ability to pay — for health and safety — not what the utility says they are required to pay like other customers who don’t experience water insecurity and sanitation burdens. Oftentimes these customers are unemployed, underemployed, and/or unemployable.

Additional resources

Detroit Water Affordability Plan (2005), prepared by Roger Colton

Detroit Water Affordability Plan – One Pager (2005), prepared by Roger Colton

Detroit’s Water – Not Flowing (2015) – United Nations film on the Detroit water shutoffs


The People’s Water Board Coalition advocates for the human rights to water and sanitation and equitable access and affordability for impacted communities.


2022 People's Water Board Coalition