ANNOUNCEMENT: Water Systems can now apply for funding to cover customers’ unpaid water bills

From the State Water Board:

Community water systems throughout the state can now apply online for financial relief from unpaid water bills that residential and commercial customers incurred due to COVID-19 related hardships. Applications are due by December 6 at 5 p.m.

The State Water Resources Control Board projects it will disburse about $333 million through its California Water and Wastewater Arrearages Payment Program between Nov. 1, 2021 and Jan. 31, 2022 directly to community water systems, or those systems with at least 15 connections, to cover residential or commercial customer accounts that are 60 or more days behind on payments accrued between March 4, 2020 and June 15, 2021.

This summer, the State Water Board surveyed local water providers to understand the scope of unpaid debt and reached out to 2,500 individual providers encouraging them to participate in the program. Eighty-seven percent of the systems that charge for water responded to the survey, and board staff expects all systems that indicated they have outstanding COVID-19 related customer debt to apply for funding.

Once water systems have received payment from the State Water Board, they are required to credit customers’ accounts within sixty days and notify customers that their water debt has been cleared or reduced. The statewide moratorium on water shutoffs remains in place through December 2021 in accordance with legislation signed by Governor Newsom on Sept. 23.

“We are reaching out to all water systems with water bill debt that responded to our survey this summer to encourage them to apply for assistance,” said Robert Brownwood, assistant deputy director for the State Water Board’s drinking water division. “We understand that many Californians have suffered financial hardship during the pandemic, and we are working as quickly as possible to provide relief. We are taking all the steps necessary to start sending checks to water systems by November 1.”

The State Water Board adopted guidelines on Sept. 21 that establish conditions applicants must meet, the type and amount of eligible debt, the prioritization of payments and the amount of allowable administrative costs.

The application phase of the program follows a second survey of water systems this summer to estimate the scope of unpaid debt and the number of systems intending to apply for funding. Systems that missed the survey deadline or chose not to apply can still apply for funding by completing an abbreviated survey. Water Board staff will review submittals as soon as they are received and respond promptly, after which the system can submit an application for funding. The deadline for both the abbreviated survey and the application is Dec. 6, 2021.

Based on the survey, available funds will satisfy 100% of reported drinking water debt.

In addition, California’s Department of Community Services and Development is administering the new federal Low Income Household Water Assistance Program that provides financial assistance to low-income Californians to manage their residential water utility costs. California has been allocated $116 million in one-time funding for this program.

The State Water Board’s mission is to preserve, enhance and restore the quality of California’s water resources and drinking water for the protection of the environment, public health and all beneficial uses, and to ensure proper resource allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations.

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