News Feature | March 9, 2018

Lawmaker Introduces Anti-Shutoff Bill

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

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Water affordability is an increasing cause of concern in California, where water rates are climbing and many residents cannot keep up.

“Max Gomberg, the State Water Resources Control Board’s climate and conservation manager, says the price of water has increased at six times the rate of inflation across the state. Gomberg’s agency is currently drafting a set of recommendations that will help the state legislature develop a financial assistance program for residents with soaring water rates,” KQED reported.

The process, however, is coming under criticism because it is taking a long time.

“The water board, which already missed a February 1 deadline on the task, aims to submit the guidelines this year, though Gomberg says the legislature is not required to follow them,” the report said.

One piece of the problem may be that water is not sufficiently subsidized, the report said.

“The water board reports that the state spends more than $2.5 billion per year to aid low-income residents with gas, electric and telecommunication services, but more than half the state’s residents have a water provider that doesn’t offer rate assistance for low-income customers,” the report said.

Residents are worried about the prospect of water shutoffs. One lawmaker has introduced a measure making it more difficult to turn off the tap.

The legislation from State senator Bill Dodd, a Democrat from Napa, would make it harder for utilities “to abruptly discontinue service for customers unable to pay their water bills. Currently, he says, cell-phone companies face tighter restrictions in cutting off services than do water agencies,” the report said.

In a statement describing his legislation, Dodd described water as a human right.

“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,” he said.

Across the country, affordability has become one of the greatest challenges water utilities face. In a recent study, researchers found that water may become unaffordable for one-third of U.S. households in the next four years.

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