The cost of water: a study of how socioeconomic factors impact water bills in Austin, Texas



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Water providers in Central Texas must adapt, expand, and renew drinking water infrastructure in the coming years to contend with increased drought and flooding wrought by climate change, accommodate the region’s growing population, and confront issues of aging and failing infrastructure. Many utilities will turn to increasing water rates to fund these improvements, potentially making water inaccessible for poorer residents. In the face of these looming rate increases, this study uses a lens of water equity to examine how socioeconomic factors, many of which are linked to histories of racism, may affect household water costs. I compare water usage data for both single and multi-family households in Austin, Texas to each household’s housing typology, income, owner-renter status, race/ethnicity, social vulnerability, level of heat exposure and home age using regression analysis, correlational analysis, and descriptive statistics. My findings indicate that a household’s status as an owner or renter was the most statistically significant determinant of its monthly water costs. This suggests that utilities hoping to improve water equity should focus on affordability and conservation programs for renters.


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