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How should water affordability be measured in the United States? A critical review

Published Web Location Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

The human right to water (HRTW) and sustainable development goals (SDG) emphasize that human well-being depends not just on the quality and physical accessibility of drinking water, but also on its economic accessibility. Despite this recognition, governments and academics alike have been hard-pressed to define and measure water affordability. In the US, affordability is no longer solely focused on utility cost-recovery models but equitable water access for individuals and households. How should water affordability be measured to represent this new focus? This question motivates the critical review presented here. We propose that household-centered affordability measures reflect the normative aims of internationally established frameworks such as the HRTW and the SDGs. Linking measurement to aims is essential to improve transparency and comparability across studies, and ultimately, to align measures with water access objectives. First, we characterize normative positions outlined in the HRTW and SDGs and identify defining features of water affordability. Second, we identify dominant definitions and measures of affordability, including novel approaches. Bringing the defining features of affordability to bear on existing measures enables us to identify several emergent debates in the literature where affordability measures could better incorporate the aspirations of the HRTW and SDGs. We conclude with recommendations on how to improve water affordability measurements, while recognizing the trade-offs between ideal measures and practical implementation. This article is categorized under:. Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Human Water > Value of Water Human Water > Rights of Water.

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