Exploring Emerging Utility-led Innovations in Water Affordability

Denver, CO

Affordability of water and wastewater (“water”) utility bills is a growing concern for many Americans, with water rates rising faster than the cost of most other goods and services. This is adding pressure to households already struggling to pay bills, forcing them to make difficult decisions between basic needs such as energy, housing, food, and medicine. Many water utilities have been addressing affordability concerns from several angles, such as offering assistance and affordability programs, pausing shutoffs, evaluating and adjusting rates to reduce the ongoing burden on households, offering alternative bill payment options, updating customer service policies, and incorporating more compassionate outreach, among other approaches.

Project Scope

  • Research and Analyses
  • Equity Considerations
  • Private and Public Sector Partners

With funding from the Water Research Foundation and working with a team comprised of Pacific Institute, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center (UNC-EFC), CIS is documenting the emerging utility-led affordability innovations across a variety of contexts and geographies, evaluating associated costs, benefits, and feasibility for utilities and customers in need, and disseminating the findings to utilities and other stakeholders to help improve responsiveness and effectiveness of affordability efforts.

The Project Team includes a landscape review to identify exemplary affordability programs and approaches employed by U.S. utilities and convene workshops with partner utilities and experts to gain deeper insight into the costs, benefits, and feasibility of implementing these efforts. The Project Team is supported by a group of ten water utilities and five nonprofit organizations and utility trade associations.

Anticipated Results

Project findings will be shared in public forums such as blog posts, a final report in a ‘guidebook’ format, a webinar, and via conference presentations.


Water Research Foundation
Pacific Institute
University of California Los Angeles
North Carolina Environmental Finance Center


2023 – 2025