The Water Price Index
At Holidu, we constantly think about how costs affect our travelers’ choices. While looking for ways to measure the everyday expenses tourists encounter when visiting a new city, we decided to narrow our focus to the most essential of needs: water.
To explore this, we examined the price of both tap water and bottled water in 30 US cities as well as over 100 cities around the world, using data to calculate the average costs for both sources of water in each location. The cities were selected not only for their popularity as tourist destinations, but also as places where there was a heightened risk of water shortage, to also help inform travelers of any restrictions they may face. For this purpose, we included a category showing the level of water stress for each city.
To begin, we looked into the quality of tap water in each US and international location, as it was important above all to see if and where the water was safe to drink. Next, we looked at the monthly consumption cost* of tap water in each city, from which we were able to calculate the percentage deviation from the median price for all the cities in the list. The results show, more or less, just how much citizens in each metropolis pay for their tap water compared to the rest of the US, and the world.
For the second part of the study, we turned our attention to bottled water. Despite negative effects on the environment, bottled water has become a ubiquitous phenomenon in many cities over recent decades, with prices varying greatly from place to place or among brands.
To determine exactly how much this varies, we found the price of a typical affordable bottle of water that a tourist may buy at a supermarket. We broke it down even further by looking at the average price per bottle of three of the most common water brands – Evian, Perrier/Nestlé and the local Coca-Cola brand water in each city. Finally, we were able to average the cost of all these different brands to see which cities have the most expensive and cheapest bottled water, calculating the percentage deviation from the median price in the US and international indexes.
The final results paint a picture of how the price of water varies from US city to city and worldwide, as well as giving an overview of the differences in local tap water costs and water stress levels found across the globe.
*The global average water consumption per person per month is 15 cubic meters.
Instructions for journalists
The index is default ranked by the final column, showing the average deviation in price for bottled water in each city, ordered from highest to lowest. Each individual column can be filtered, and the full methodology explaining how each factor was evaluated can be found underneath the table.
Results for the USA
** For Wellington, New Zealand, the cost of tap water is paid through a flat property rate that depends on the property type. This water pricing model is unique in the dataset and prevents a fair comparison with other locations. Data for “Tap Water Price” for Wellington, New Zealand is therefore omitted.
The Water Price Index compares and analyzes the costs of tap water and bottled water in 30 US and 120 cities around the world, showing the actual average costs for consumption as well as the price percentage deviation from the dataset median in each location.
The cities were selected due to their popularity as tourist destinations, with care taken to include locations that face a heightened risk of water shortage. A large number of metropolitan areas selected for analysis were taken from the key publications ‘Ranking Port Cities with High Exposure and Vulnerability to Climate Extremes’ – OECD (2008) and the ‘Sustainable Cities Water Index’ – Arcadis (2016). Additional research into media reports on water shortages was used to source locations not covered in these publications.
To reflect this, a water stress category was included for each city in the tables, representing the ratio of total water consumption to supply. Higher values indicate more competition among users (Source: WRI Aqueduct 2019).
Both indexes are divided into two sections with multiple factors that measure the costs for tap water and bottled water in each city:
- Tap Water Quality (Score)
- Tap Water Price (USD/m³) up to 15m³ per month
- Tap Water Price (Deviation from median)
- Typical Affordable Bottle 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
- Evian 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
- Perrier / Nestlé 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
- Local Coca-Cola Water Brand 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
- Bottled Water, Price (Average Deviation from Median)
Calculation of Price Deviations
In order to provide some relative context to the prices, the deviation of prices from the dataset medians – the midpoint of both datasets – for both tap and bottled water are included. The deviation from the median is calculated using the following formula:
For “Tap Water Price (Deviation from Median)”, the price deviation is calculated from a single factor.
For “Bottled Water, Price (Average Deviation from Median)”, the percentage reflects the average of all price deviations calculated from each category of bottled water.
Tap Water Quality (Score)
The quality of drinking water with regards to safety and public perception. Safety indicators include water, sanitation and hygiene (‘WASH’) data from international monitors such as UNICEF which analyze the national coverage of water access considered ‘free from contamination’. Other safety indicators from the World Health Organisation provide national scores for water safety based on the number of DALY rates (age-standardised, disability-adjusted life years lost per 100,000 persons) due to exposure to unsafe drinking water. Additionally, data on public perception of the quality of water was taken at the local level from self-reported survey results on pollution perceptions.
The final score is a combination of the following indicators:
- The 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) measurement of ‘unsafe drinking water’ (country level).
- WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) data on the ‘Basic and Safely managed Drinking Water Coverage’. 2017 values were taken for ‘proportion of population using improved water supplies’ and ‘free from contamination’. Figures taken for ‘urban areas’, where possible, otherwise ‘national’ figures were used (country level).
- Numbeo Pollution Index for Drinking Water Pollution and Inaccessibility indicators (city-level).
Sources: The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP), Numbeo.
Tap Water Price (USD/m³) up to 15m³ per month
The factor displays the billing price per month for 1 m³ of tap water based on the latest effective tariff from the The International Benchmarking Network for Water and Sanitation Utilities (IBNET) database. Each city is represented by one utility provider and their respective rates. A list of the cities and their utility providers can be supplied upon request.
To calculate the monthly price/m³, the following parameters were used:
- Service type: Water, or Water and Wastewater where the same price applies for both.
- Latest available water tariff (based on consuming up to 15 m³ of water per month).
- Additional monthly service charges where applicable.
- VAT where applicable.
Tap Water Price (Deviation from Median)
The deviation of tap water price from the dataset midpoint, as described in “Calculation of Price Deviations” above. This factor represents how much more or less citizens in each city pay for tap water compared to the median price in the index.
This section compares the price for bottled water from up to two different supermarket outlets in each city. Supermarkets were chosen according to their market share and the online availability of their prices. The intention was to create a sample of representative, local supermarkets. On rare occasions, special outlets for beverages or online only supermarkets were taken into account to complete the samples.
All prices were taken at full price without discount. The bottle size for each profile was standardised to 16.9 fl oz to ensure comparability. If this specific size didn’t exist, the bottle size closest to this profile was chosen (e.g. 330 ml, or 750 ml). The price collection was carried out between January and February 2021.
Full details for the names of the supermarkets and/or water profiles are available upon request.
Typical Affordable Bottle 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
The cost of an affordably-priced 16.9 fl oz bottle of still water bought at a supermarket in each city. Typical was defined as the brand with the most variants available at supermarkets in each location.
Evian 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
The average cost for a 16.9 fl oz bottle of Evian-brand still water in each city.
Perrier / Nestlé 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
The average cost for a 16.9 fl oz bottle of Perrier-brand sparkling water in each city. On rare occasions where Perrier was not available in a location, San Pellegrino (also a Nestlé brand) was chosen instead.
Local Coca-Cola Water Brand 16.9 fl oz, Price (USD)
The average cost for a 16.9 fl oz bottle of still water produced by the local Coca-Cola company brand present (e. G. Dasani) in each city.
Bottled Water, Price (Average Deviation from Median)
The average deviation of bottled water price from the dataset midpoint, as described in “Calculation of Price Deviations” above. This factor represents how much more or less people in each city pay for bottled water compared to the median price in the index.
The Average Price deviation is based on the price deviations for all categories of bottled water (“Typical”, “Perrier”, “Evian”, “Coca-Cola’s local water brand”) as well as the additional profiles “most affordable” and “Pepsi-Cola’s local water brand”.
Currency conversion correct as of average of conversion rates between 01.08.2021 – 02.08.2021.