Data on Tap

Author: Jacob Hayward

Local water utilities’ policies regarding access, pricing, payment schedules, shutoffs, and debt collection have significant impacts on the individuals and communities that these utilities serve. In recent years, a distinct legislative trend towards mandated water policy transparency has been gaining momentum across the country. Simultaneously, an international push for affordable water access has been spearheaded by the United Nations as part of its Sustainable Development Goals. While these laws represent an important movement towards realization of the human right to
water, they also work towards securing a less discussed human right: access to governmentheld information. This briefing paper examines U.S. initiatives to promote water policy transparency through the lens of this human right.

The United Nations has been working towards pushing for a more affordable water access as part of its sustainable development goals. Jacob Hayward from the Human Rights and Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University, under advisement of our expert committee chair, Martha Davis, has published a paper called “Data on Tap: Realizing Human Rights through Water Utility Reporting Laws. The paper is the eighth of the human right to water series. It expands on the policies and laws regarding the access of information of water utilities in the United States.

The relationship between the human right to water and the human right to information goes back to 2010. “Access to government held information is often the only way to determine the presence of inequities and inadequacies in a government’s support for human rights” says Hayward. Furthermore, the paper also explains more recent laws and policies that have come up due to recent events and needs. Hayward presents 6 states (California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maryland) of the United States as case studies. A summary of the Water Utility Data Laws is presented on the right.

Table 1: Summary of Water Utility Data Laws by Jacob Hayward

Read the full paper “Data on Tap: Realizing Human Rights through Water Utility Reporting Laws”: here.