An Assessment of Water Affordability & Conservation Potential in Houston, Texas

May 19, 2023

AWE’s report, An Assessment of Water Affordability and Conservation Potential in Houston, Texas, evaluates water affordability in Houston and the extent to which water efficiency and conservation can help families, particularly disadvantaged families, lower their water and sewer bills. This follows on AWE’s recent water affordability assessments, including the 2022 analysis of affordability in Long Beach, California

Water affordability is an incredibly important issue and AWE's affordability assessments help address socioeconomic inequities by identifying the extent and scope of water affordability challenges as well as tangible steps that water utilities and consumers can take to reduce the financial burden of water and sewer bills.

The City of Houston is located in Southeast Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. It is the largest city in Texas spanning over 630 square miles and is home to 2.3 million people as of 2020. Houston Public Works (HPW) serves the City of Houston and an additional 2.4 million contract and wholesale customers outside the city limits. HPW is the largest water/wastewater utility in Texas. The City of Houston is focused on many issues that affect the quality of life for their residents and the overall resiliency of their community, including issues that directly or indirectly affect the affordability of water and service.

The analysis in this report revealed that the most impacted households will go from paying about 13 percent of yearly income on water and sewer bills to over 21 percent. AWE highlighted that water efficiency and conservation strategies can lower ongoing water use and bills and improve affordability for customers. The measures assessed are estimated to achieve an average of 15 percent bill savings, though some strategies could save up to 34 percent.

HPW has a customer assistance program called the Water Aid to Elderly Residents (W.A.T.E.R) Fund, additional financial relief programs and policies, water conservation programs, and recently underwent a rate restructure, which includes a conservation credit.

Recommendations in the report include things like:

  • Explore utility revenue streams that could be utilized for the W.A.T.E.R. Fund or other customer assistance programs. Depending on legal limitations, the City of Houston could start by identifying availability of nonratepayer revenue sources for customer assistance programs.
  • Improve tracking of payment plan information, service shut-offs, non-payment patterns, participation in assistance programs, and other measures in order to develop a richer set of affordability metrics and better track and understand the challenges facing customers across the economic spectrum.
  • Explore conservation strategies that reduce barriers and improve accessibility for more vulnerable households. This may include reducing language barriers, working with community-based partners, offering no or low-cost direct install programs, offering no or low-cost home and irrigation water use assessments, offering leak detection and repair services, and more. 

To view the corresponding webinar summarizing the findings of this report, click here

 Download the Report