Water Affordability in CA

January 12, 2021

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, over 350,000 Californians have had their water shut off due to inability to pay. The current public health crisis has emphasized existing structural inequities, disproportionately impacting low-income and communities of color including access to water

In April 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order banning water shutoffs statewide for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency. However, the shut-off moratorium is a temporary measure. The issue of shut-offs has not gone away in the long-term and with each passing month, families are further behind on their water bills. A rising tide of household water debt for low-income families now threatens a tidal wave of mass water shutoffs in 2021.

Current basic state-wide protection established by SB 998 (Dodd 2018) requires water systems to have a water shutoff policy, set caps on the cost of reconnection fees and late fees, and requires a basic level of annual reporting from water systems on the amount of shutoffs that occur each year. However, small water systems that serve 200 connections or less aren’t included in these protections. 

No state-wide low-income affordability program (LIRA) exists for water utilities (unlike electricity, gas, telecommunications, and cell-phones). In 2015, AB 401 (Dodd) passed, requiring the State Water Board to create a plan for a statewide water affordability program by 2018. It is now time for the CA Legislature and Governor to implement a low-income rate assistance program for water.

Clean Water Action and a broad coalition of water advocates and allies have come together to call for solutions to the water affordability crisis. An equitable recovery from the pandemic must include solutions for water access & affordability. CWA is advocating on the State & Federal level to prevent a wave of mass water shutoffs and that families aren’t drowning in water debt. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, we urge legislators to:

  • Assist low-income households with their water bills through a low-income rate assistance (LIRA) program

  • Eliminate late fees and reconnection fees

  • Provide emergency grants and loans to help small water systems avoid bankruptcy