San Diego Water Managers Push For State Relief
San Diego County water managers are lobbying state officials to help get financial relief for customers and water agencies struggling with water debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The region’s water wholesaler was surprised by the amount of debt looming over water customers and the agencies that sell it.
State water officials estimate 1.6 million customers are behind on their water bills. The debt is worth more than $1 billion.
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Glenn Farrel, San Diego County Water Authority director of Government Relations, said there are long-term issues that need consideration.
“About water affordability. About low-income assistance programs and lifeline rates opportunities” said Farrel. “Is there a way that we can structure programs to help ensure that there are not households, at that level, at that quantity, that are living on the edge, month-to-month on their water bill?”
Farrel is hoping state lawmakers will put relief in the state budget.
There is currently a moratorium on water shutoffs for late water bills, but that will expire as the COVID-19 state of emergency expires.
State Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) is pushing for two bills to deal with the moratorium and the unpaid debt. He argues the problem is not just a COVID-19 issue.
“Our water rates, between 2007 and 2015, increased by about 47%,” Dodd said
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Any debt that accumulated in the past year is not going away anytime soon.
“There are substantial arrearages and delinquencies and a growing water debt, water ratepayer debt, around the state of California,” Farrel said. “It’s a situation where it’s a deferral of payments for water, for electricity, for sewer, for rent and at some point later in 2021, likely, those bills will become due.”
State officials said both water customers and water agencies are at risk because of the huge debt which will have to be paid at some point.