In many older cities, aging water infrastructure has a highly negative impact on the safety and quality of water residents receive through municipal supplies. For example, aging pipes made of lead or copper can leach dangerous contaminants into water supplies that can cause severe health implications if consumed.
The urgency to mitigate this risk has caused cities to seek greater funding for infrastructure upgrades, but in cases where such funding from grants or federal investments is lacking, cities must raise residential utility rates in order to acquire enough funding. Rising rates can greatly overburden low-income residents who may be struggling to afford their water bills, and this puts them at risk of having their water service shutoff or receiving a property lien and being evicted.
The negative spiral of increased poverty and homelessness these current funding models can generate must be rectified, as in many ways they augment the challenges around equitable resource access rather than resolving them.
From 2021 – 2022, LÆRO conducted an in-depth investigation into how water infrastructure is being funded and maintained in post-industrial cities across the United States, citing these challenges as an immediate need for alternative political and economic solutions.
In our research, we established several alternative funding models that could be applied to advance funding towards infrastructure upgrades without significantly raising residential utility rates in a short period of time. We now aim to communicate these findings in actionable ways for activists and policymakers alike, as well as to continue researching alternative funding models that could be relevant to other political economies outside of the U.S.
By designing a systems framework for equitable infrastructure funding, this project goes hand-in-hand with LÆRO’s technology projects by defining the socioeconomic systems they support.