Californians Are Having to Choose Between Water and Basic Needs

As drought drives prices higher, millions of Californians struggle to pay for water

By Jeff Poor

9 June 2017

Californians struggling to pay for water are increasingly finding themselves squeezed by the drought.

That’s the stark verdict of the latest survey of Californians on their water spending, commissioned in part by UC Davis’ Institute of Health Policy Studies.

This survey finds that a third of Californians now say that they are “living paycheck to paycheck.”

The median household water bill has increased by 17 percent. While almost 40 percent of households reported that they have been forced to reduce their water use, the survey shows that the majority of Californians “are not prepared financially or physically to take these steps.”

Nearly all Californians who now have to pay for water are renters—the only group more likely to have to cut back than Californians in general.

As a result, this new survey found, Californians are increasingly facing the very real risk of being unable to pay their water bills.

“People are being asked … to make the difficult, painful and potentially irreversible choice between paying for food and water and paying for heat or power,” the study, released in February, notes. “These decisions will test our most basic assumptions. But we are also seeing a new wave of resistance to that prospect, as Californians demand the right to use water for non-polluting purposes.”

The survey finds that as California faces its fifth year of drought, more Californians have been forced to choose between paying water bills and their basic needs. In 2013, only 13 percent of households cut back on water use as a result of the drought.

That figure has jumped to 26 percent in 2014, 27 percent in 2015, 31 percent in 2016, 32 percent in 2017, and 37 percent in 2018. The figures do not include the nearly 4 million Californians who pay under the state’s ‘cap and pay’ legislation, which restricts the amount that people can use in order to pay water bills.

The study, also commissioned by the Sierra Club and UC Davis, was released just two days before Governor Gavin Newsom is set to unveil a new state drought

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