Throughout the Great Lakes region and across the U.S., water systems are aging. In some communities, this means water bills that residents can’t afford or water that’s unsafe to drink. It means that vulnerable systems are even more at risk in a changing climate. From shrinking cities and small towns to the comparatively thriving suburbs, the true cost of water has been deferred for decades.
As the nation prepares to pour hundreds of billions of federal dollars into rescuing water systems, the Great Lakes News Collaborative investigates the true cost of water in Michigan.
The questions — the mental calculations for basic needs — are relentless. Can she go another day or two without doing laundry? Do those dishes need to be cleaned now or can they wait until tomorrow or the next day?
Water conservation is a constant negotiation for Summer, a 58-year-old Oak Park resident. Unlike for most people, it’s also a survival strategy.
Summer said she has to be stingy with water to make her monthly budget pencil out. Water, sewer, stormwater, and garbage collection are all part of the same bill. To keep it in the $120 range she washes clothes once a week, sometimes every other week. She receives a fixed income from disability payments. With all her other bills, waste is a luxury she can’t afford.
“Well, it is stressful, of course, because you can’t really live a functional life without water,” said Summer, who did not want her real name to be used in order to keep her personal struggles private. “And you know, it puts you in a scary place, a stressful place, where you’re concerned that your water’s going to go off and if it goes off, you’re going to have to pay all of the reconnection fees.” 05-10-22