New York’s Hidden Water Affordability Crisis

The following excerpts were reprinted from The River. Read the full article.

If you could get to another planet, what would you need to live there? It’s a straightforward question with a simple answer—air, food, shelter, and water. These elements are so basic to life that New York State has programs to help people with each one. Air is free and abundant, but the state has laws protecting it from pollution, so it is safe to breathe. The New York SNAP program helps millions of New Yorkers purchase food. There are multiple programs that help with affordable housing. All these well-known programs are vital to so many in our population. 

What about water? 

First it is helpful to define the problem. Recent data released by the Western NY Law Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) reveals a hidden water affordability crisis plaguing New York households. 

They found that over 200,000 water customers in Monroe, Erie, Oneida, and Suffolk Counties—which together serve more than three million New Yorkers—owed their respective authorities more than $40 million in the fall of 2021. In New York City, water and wastewater utility-reported arrears had doubled since the start of the pandemic, totaling around $750 million.

The Hudson Valley is no exception to ballooning utility debt. Recent figures show Central Hudson had more than 50,000 residential energy customers owing well over $42 million in April of 2022. Though water systems in the Hudson Valley aren’t required to report data like energy utilities are, it is safe to assume that the number of New Yorkers who are behind on their water bills has skyrocketed in the region too.