Washington, D.C. – As first reported in the Associated Press, a national survey released today by Food & Water Watch reveals that New Orleans had the fourth-highest water shutoff rate in the United States in 2016.
Food & Water Watch contacted the two largest water systems in each state, receiving responses back from 73 utilities, including the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans. Data obtained from the utility revealed a 17 percent shutoff rate in New Orleans – more than one out of every six homes – affecting 19,486 households, or an estimated 46,572 people.
Nationally, the average responding water utility shut off five percent of households for non-payment in 2016. Based on this data, Food & Water Watch estimates that 15 million people in the United States experienced a water shutoff in 2016, or one out of every 20 households. The states with the highest rates were mostly concentrated in the South: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.
“The shocking shutoff rate in New Orleans calls for urgent action by the Sewerage & Water Board. New Orleans residents have one of the highest water cost burdens in the country,” said Mary Grant, Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch.
The survey found that, as with Detroit, more than one in five households in New Orleans receive water bills that exceed 9 percent of their income, with typical household water bills exceeding $1,000 a year.
“It is so clearly poverty that is a central issue in New Orleans, with an economy built on tourism,” said Debra Campbell, Board Secretary of A Community Voice – Louisiana. “The Sewerage & Water Board has no ombudsman for customers and all appeals are only decided by the utility. There have been unbearable annual increases of up to 10% on the water bills for years.”
While the average city with the most shutoffs is low-income, not all low-income cities engage in mass shutoffs. Jackson, Mississippi had high rates of poverty (31 percent) and a zero percent shutoff rate. Meanwhile, some cities surveyed, like Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Leominster, Massachusetts do not shut off water service for non-payment at all.
New Orleans had one of the highest capital needs of the cities surveyed by Food & Water Watch. The city planned to spend $3.2 billion in total over the next decade, which amounts to an annualized cost of $2,699 per household. As of November 2017, the utility had 253 active projects, totaling $1.2 billion. More than 40 percent of those costs are drainage projects to reduce flood damage in the city, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina more than a decade later. These improvement projects appear to be the driver of the city’s high water costs and high water burden for low-income residents.
“New Orleans must urgently address water affordability for its residents,” said Grant. “This is a crisis in the making, exacerbated by climate change and dwindling federal funding to help communities maintain their water systems. It’s time for New Orleans to stop the shutoffs until it puts an affordability plan in place. City officials can look to several cities we surveyed for solutions beyond cutting water service.”
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
Accompanying data visualizations (embed codes available upon request):
- Interactive Map: http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/wyUkk/14/
- Interactive Chart of Survey Results: http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IUvzm/9/
Video/B-roll—Mary Grant discusses top findings from the report (interviews available upon request): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyYrDOSh4Y8
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]