| Efforts to keep safe water flowing during pandemic necessary, but costly
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Efforts to keep safe water flowing during pandemic necessary, but costly

As the U.S. Congress considers legislation to bolster the nation’s economy in response to the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and its members and partner organizations continue to inform delegates about the state of the water sector.

Thank You Water ProfessionalsTo alert U.S. lawmakers to the growing economic burden the coronavirus crisis is placing on the water sector and water customers, AWWA and its Water Utility Council recently urged utility members to contact their congressional delegations and ask them to support the ongoing ability of the water sector to provide safe, reliable water service, including:

  • Assistance for low-income water customers
  • Financial support for water utilities impacted by revenue reductions
  • Investment in water infrastructure to spur job growth

“Unlike transportation, the water and wastewater sectors have limited federal grant sources and rely on ratepayers who pay 80 to 90 percent of the costs,” stated a letter to congressional delegates from Washington, signed by more than 100 of the state’s water and wastewater utilities and their trade associations.

The letter continued, ”Water and wastewater utilities must continue providing these essential services despite the financial challenges  utilities are incurring due to falling revenue from declines in usage from commercial and industrial users, maintaining service to delinquent ratepayers who cannot afford their bills, and moving forward whenever possible with near-term critical infrastructure projects.”

Supporting the water sector through COVID-19An analysis of the impact on U.S. drinking water utilities from COVID-19, prepared by Raftelis for AWWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, estimates a $32.7 billion drop in economic activity and the loss of 75,000 to 90,000 private sector jobs.

At Frederick Water in Virginia, “we currently have over $119,000 due in delinquent charges,” stated Michael Newlin, assistant director, in a letter sent to Virginia’s congressional representatives. “We have seen revenues drop off as customers are no longer able to pay for the water they are using.”

Larry Bingaman, president and chief executive officer with South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority, stated in a letter to Connecticut’s congressional representatives, “as more of our customers are impacted by the economic consequences of this pandemic, they will have difficulty meeting basic expenses. This may result in more water bills going unpaid, placing greater pressure on the RWA and other utilities.”

Other letters included these facts:

  • At Des Moines Water Works, which is sequestering critical staff at its three water treatment plants to ensure uninterrupted, safe water supply, more than 5,000 service disconnections have been deferred and delinquent amounts owed by residential customers increased by 27 percent from March to April of this year
  • In Wilmington, Ohio, water demand and revenue fell 15 percent during the same period
  • KC Water is revising its current year fiscal year budget to reduce projected expenditures by 10 percent
  • The City of Rochester, N.Y., reported March sales to monthly customers were $323,000 lower than FY2020 average sales and the suspension of late penalty charges in mid-March have resulted in revenue losses of $75,000 per month

“I am proud of the dedication and selflessness displayed by our staff in keeping safe water flowing into our customers’ homes,” stated Lovey Warren, mayor of the City of Rochester. “We urge Congress to help us keep that level of service going.”

Tommy Holmes, AWWA legislative director, is working with utilities to submit letters to Congress and track responses.

“It’s great to see AWWA members weighing in with Congress on COVID-19 issues affecting the water sector,” he said. “Every letter leaves an impression. It’s not too late for others to communicate with Congress on this.”