NEW YORK Oct 15 The systems that supply most
Americans with drinking water continue to deteriorate, despite
hiking rates for users and taking on more taxpayer debt over a
decade, according to a new study.
The average debt of municipal water systems in the United
States increased by 33 percent from 2000 through 2010, and
consumers paid 23 percent more in rates on average over the same
period, according to researchers at Columbia University's Water
Center in New York.
The nation's biggest water utilities are driving the hikes,
accounting for debt and rate increases both over 100 percent,
the study found. Meanwhile, federal funding for water
infrastructure has begun to dry up.
"It will be difficult for many utilities to raise rates high
enough to pay down existing levels of debt," said Upmanu Lall,
the center's director, in a statement.
The American Water Works Association estimated in 2011 that
drinking water systems need $1 trillion to replace more than one
million miles of aging pipes underneath the nation's streets
over the next 25 years.
Columbia's study analyzed factors that are driving
variability in water rates around the country - including water
source, utility size, population and climate - and their impact
on debt and operating expenses. It used public data from the
U.S. Census Bureau, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic
Administration and other sources.
The researchers found that small water systems had the
highest operating expenses, and that large utilities are the
most likely to cover their costs through rates despite having
They also noted that utilities are coming under stress
because of demographic changes - particularly as Americans
migrate to the West and South, where water is scarcer, demand is
growing, or both.