The next crisis for California will be the affordability of water

The price of almost everything is on the rise, but we tend to shrug off inflation in goods and services we can cut back or do without. Not water, the rising cost of which is looming as a defining economic problem in coming years.

In California and across the nation, concern about water affordability has been spreading, with good reason. Few basic commodities are under as much cost pressure.

“The water infrastructure is aging, there’s more water contamination and our standards for cleanliness keep rising, and climate change is making our supplies less reliable,” says Laura Feinstein of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based environmental think tank. “At some point the bill comes due” — but because water demand is stable or even dropping, water agencies can find revenue to cover the bill only by raising rates on consumption.

The result is an inexorable rise in water rates. Rates in Los Angeles rose by as much as 71% from 2010 to 2017, according to a survey by Circle of Blue, a water news website. In San Francisco the increase was as much as 127%, and 119% even for the stingiest users, a group that presumably includes many low-income residents.

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Chris Alexakiswater