SACRAMENTO – With the release of a new study showing low-income Californians are struggling to afford drinking water, especially amid economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, announced legislation today to provide financial assistance to customers who can’t pay their water bills and to prevent service disconnections.
“Access to water is a fundamental right of all Californians, regardless of their income level or economic status,” Sen. Dodd said. “Yet as we’ve seen today, many people are at risk of being denied this essential service, in part because of rising water rates but also because the pandemic has left so many people unemployed. My legislation will ensure low-income customers aren’t cut off and get the financial help they need to keep the water turned on for their families.”
Sen. Dodd introduced two new bills. Senate Bill 222 establishes a water assistance fund for low-income rate payers experiencing economic hardship. And SB 223 expands protections and protocols for customers who are faced with having their water shutoff because of an inability to pay their bills.
Together they build on Sen. Dodd’s earlier legislation. His Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act, or Assembly Bill 401, commissioned a study for how to address affordability. It resulted in recommendations including this new fund. He also wrote The Water Shutoff Protection Act, or SB 998, which provided significant safeguards against water shutoffs.
The new bills come as the State Water Resources Control Board heard results of a survey Tuesday that found water debt in California climbed to about $1 billion. The survey estimated 12% of California households are behind on their water bills with an average debt of $500 per household. Many of those people are at risk of losing service.
Sen. Dodd’s proposals are backed by a coalition of water advocates including the Community Water Center, Clean Water Action and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
“The State Water Board data reveals the existing reality of countless California families drowning in water debt and small water systems struggling to keep the water flowing,” said Susana De Anda, co-founder and executive director for Community Water Center. “We're proud to work alongside Sen. Dodd and our community partners on solutions to this crisis that will prevent mass water shutoffs in low-income communities and truly make water affordable once and for all.”
“More than 350,000 Californians had their water shut off in 2019,” said Jennifer Clary, California director of Clean Water Action. “We need to address the long-term issue of water affordability for all Californians as well as the debt crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.”
“Access to clean, affordable and reliable water is a human right,” said Michael Claiborne, senior attorney at Leadership Counsel. “These bills authored by Sen. Dodd add protections for households and communities facing unaffordable water and the risk of shutoff for inability to pay. They address a systemic failure that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous people and people of color.”
Senator Bill Dodd represents the 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Solano, Yolo, Sonoma, Contra Costa, and Sacramento counties. You can learn more about the district and Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.