Water Agencies And Advocates Join In Seeking Federal Funds To Reduce Water Costs

A broad coalition of business organizations, government agencies and consumer and environmental groups is pushing for increased aid for water providers to be included in the latest federal coronavirus relief bill - with the dual goals of keeping water agencies solvent and ensuring consumers have access to safe drinking water.

Led by the Association of California Water Agencies, the group also includes the California Municipal Utilities Association and the California Water Association, as well as the consumer and environmental groups Clean Water Action, Community Water Center and Sierra Club California and the Western United Dairymen, Western growers and Bay Area Council business groups.

The coalition sent a second letter this week to California's congressional delegation urging support for provisions in the Heroes Act, the relief bill now under consideration, that would help ensure consumers have access to clean water as massive unemployment has led to a spike in water bill delinquencies.

The $3 trillion Heroes Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15 and is awaiting action in the Senate.

The Heroes Act already includes $1.5 billion to help low-income consumers pay their bills. The group is seeking $4 billion more in grants to individual states for similar efforts, along with $100 billion in new spending over five years to help deliver clean water, with at least 20 percent earmarked for disadvantaged communities as grants.

It's also asking for emergency funding for struggling water agencies, particularly those serving disadvantaged or hard-hit communities, to help make up for lost revenue and pay for public health protections the agencies have put in place during the pandemic.

Because many states have issued moratoriums on water shutoffs, water districts around the country are struggling to keep the taps open.

"Seeing such a broad coalition support water affordability demonstrates there is a recognition that people are hurting out there, and this is really remarkable to see this coming together," said Dave Reynolds, director of federal relations for the Association of California Water Agencies.

The coalition also wants a national shutoff moratorium and a safe reconnection provision "that ensures every American has access to water in their homes now and through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and that allows for relief to vulnerable customers for a time afterwards to regain their financial footing while also providing needed fiscal support to water systems," according to the letter.

Reynolds said the coalition is seeking sponsors from both parties and trying to include agencies in other states.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) expressed support on Thursday for the group's efforts.

"Unfortunately, there are millions of Americans that are at risk of having their water shut off because they can't afford the bill," she said in an emailed statement. "Millions more face toxic drinking water and degraded drinking water infrastructure. We have the policies to address this crisis, and the water-related provisions in the Heroes Act are an important step forward."

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[This story was originally published by SFGate]