Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) introduced a new bill to protect access to drinking water for households. The bill would enact a sweeping slate of consumer protections to ensure that families struggling to pay their water bills are given time and options before their water service is disconnected.
“Access to water is a human right,” said Senator Dodd. “Right now it’s the Wild West when it comes to standard processes and protections before people can have their water service cut, which is why I’m working to guarantee due process and flexibility for residents across our state. California law provides that everyone has the right to access clean, affordable water for human consumption and sanitation. While it’s great to have a right on paper, it’s imperative that right is realized.”
Statewide, the cost of water grew by over 66 percent between 2007 and 2015. In Los Angeles the cost of water increased 71 percent between 2010 and 2017, and for San Franciscans it climbed up to 127 percent. For many households in poverty, the cost of water is more than 5 percent of household income, which is over three times the affordability threshold of 1.5 percent. The California Urban Water Agencies, which represents utilities serving the majority of Californians, found that more than one in five of their customers are impacted by water affordability.
“Six years after we worked to pass the Human Right to Water, which made it clear that everyone has the right to expect water justice in California, it’s time to take the next step in its implementation,” said Jennifer Clary, Water Program Manager for Clean Water Action. “Clean Water Action applauds Senator Dodd for his commitment.”
Many residents across the state struggle to pay their water bills and ultimately lose their water service. In 2015, nearly 8,200 residences had their water service interrupted due to unpaid bills in the East Bay Municipal Utility District alone, totaling 2.49 percent of their residential customers. Loss of water service can have dire health and safety consequences for residents. While there are consistent lifeline programs for people having difficulty paying their electric, gas and telephone bills, there is nothing more than a patchwork of local practices across thousands of water providers.
“We need to ensure that we have an efficient, sustainable, and equitable water system in California,” said Dodd. “This bill is one piece of the broader puzzle, and I will continue pushing for smart water policy in Sacramento.”
Dodd’s bill, SB 998, requires water providers to have public policies on water shutoffs that provide for deferred payments, alternate payment schedules, and an appeals process. The measure would prohibit shutoffs for at least 60 days following a delinquency and require water providers to give advanced written notice and initiate actual direct contact with the residents before service could be discontinued. The bill would also halt a shutoff if it would impact a medically fragile resident or if a local health agency determines it would result in a serious threat to residents’ health and safety. Lastly, if service is disrupted, the bill requires that people are told how to restore service, and it waives reconnection fees and reduces interest rates for low income households.
Senator Bill Dodd represents California’s 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, and Contra Costa Counties. You can learn more about Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.