Unpaid bills spiking at some water utilities

July 18, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

Tell the state

The state Water Resources Control Board wants to know whether individuals are still having water shut off for nonpayment.

To report a shut off GO HERE.

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Several state legislators have asked the Governor to extend his order prohibiting water shutoffs for nonpayment to even the smallest water utilities.

Right now, the Governor’s April 2 order applies to water utilities serving 200 or more connections.

If Gov. Newsom expands his order, it could have a huge impact in the San Joaquin Valley, which has hundreds of extremely small water systems, serving countless families, many in disadvantaged communities.

It’s still unclear what effect the Governor’s order has had on water utilities, as reported by SJV Water earlier this month. Or whether many customers are still being shut off.

Several water utility trade associations sent a letter opposing the move to expand the Governor’s order saying smaller utilities have fewer resources to withstand lack of payment for any length of time.

“Many small water utilities are not able to pay employees, purchase supplies, or pay creditors,” states a letter from California Association of Mutual Water Companies, Community Water System Alliance  and the California Water Association. “Without paying customers to fund operations, these water utilities may be unable to obtain a line of credit and if they are able access the credit market, they will likely be forced to accept high-cost sources of capital, such as short-term credit.”

That’s exactly why the Community Water Center and more than 50 other social and environmental justice organizations, which are advocating that late fees and other fines also be eliminated, are advocating for direct government aid to small water systems, according to a letter sent May 20 from the coalition.

Though there isn’t any hard data about the effects of the Governor’s moratorium, Adan Ortega, Executive Director of Cal Mutuals, said he’s starting to hear about spikes in water bill nonpayment from his members

Montebello Land & Water Co., east of Whittier, hadn’t seen many non payers at first.

“But as the months have worn on, they’ve had a sudden spike,” Orgeta said. “They’re seeing $26,000 a month in outstanding bills.”

After SJV Water’s story posted earlier this month, representatives of two water utilities wrote to say they too have seen spikes in non payments.

Riverdale Public Utility District, 25 miles south of Fresno, has about 1,000 connections, said Board Member Jim Petty.

Of those 177 aren’t paying, which is way up from the typical 40 delinquent accounts, he said.

At the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, north of Santa Cruz, board member Lois Henry (yes, there’s another Lois Henry) reported a similar uptick in unpaid water bills.

Delinquent accounts have gone from 8 to 10 percent each billing cycle up to 12 to 14 percent.

The district had $180,000 in past due accounts in April. That went up to $212,000 in May.

“Having been a credit union person for almost 30 years, I know how difficult it is to get caught up once a person is behind on payments,” Henry wrote in an email. “I get the state wanted to help people who have lost jobs because of COVID-19 but why put it on water purveyors? Why doesn’t the state pay some of the cost?

“This Lois Henry is miffed.”

Lois Henry, left, meets Lois Henry, right, for dinner in Bakersfield in 2015.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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