NPR

A Water Crisis Is Growing In A Place You'd Least Expect It

The Great Lakes are one of the world's largest sources of fresh water, but many Americans in surrounding cities face a dark irony: They can't afford their rising water bills.
Chicago resident Domitila Valerio started noticing her bill increasing in 2018. When the bills escalated to more than $700, she couldn't afford to pay. Source: Michelle Kanaar for APM Reports

This story is part of a collaboration with APM Reports, the investigative unit of American Public Media, and Great Lakes Today.


For months, Rev. Falicia Campbell kept a secret from her congregation, her friends and even her adult children. It was a secret she was ashamed to divulge: She was living without running water.

Like a growing number of Americans, the 63-year-old Chicago resident couldn't afford to pay her rising water bills. She inherited her mother's house in Englewood, a poor neighborhood on the city's South Side, and last year received a $5,000 bill.

Campbell is partially blind and lives on a fixed income from disability payments. She dedicates most of her time to helping her community. Her church includes a resource center that provides food and shelter for poor and homeless people.

She couldn't pay off her water debt, and in August her water was turned off. The Chicago water department offered her a payment plan but required a more than $1,700 deposit before restoring her water. She didn't have it.

Here she was living a few miles from Lake Michigan, one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world, and she didn't have running water in her house. Without it, her daily life became a struggle.

"I just said, 'Oh God, whatever I did, forgive me,'" Campbell said. "This was a lesson. I had my lights off

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