COVID-19 Calls for Response from Water Utilities
Water and wastewater utilities play an essential role in preventing the spread of COVID-19, at the same time the pandemic requires them to absorb financial and operational losses. Many households are struggling to pay their bills. In Arizona, the Corporation Commission has been encouraging utilities to make resources available to customers during COVID-19 to ensure that their services continue to be affordable; and on the national level, Congress is considering legislation, supported by more than 100 lawmakers, to block utility shutoffs for at least six months after the state of emergency.
Most water utilities, however, do not need such mandates. A survey taken by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) found that more than 90% of responding utilities have ceased water shut offs and some 67% will waive late fees. Payment plan options, service fees waivers, and rates reductions or payment forgiveness for one billing cycle are additional measure adopted by some utilities. These measures are being taken despite the staffing and workforce safety challenges reported by 97% of the responding utilities.
The combination of concessions to customers, operational challenges, and other economic fallout from the pandemic has resulted in serious financial woes. A new analysis, prepared by Raftelis (a water and wastewater utilities consulting firm) for the AWWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, projects revenue shortfalls for drinking water utilities from the coronavirus pandemic may reduce economic activity by $32.7 billion and cost 75,000 to 90,000 private sector jobs. Revenues from customer payments are expected to drop by nearly $14 billion as a result of economic impacts on their residential customers and reductions in non-residential water demands. The report, Financial Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on U.S. Drinking Water Utilities, was developed from the most recent data available. Congress is very likely to provide some relief for water utilities and their customers.
Meanwhile, leaders in the water industry have been focusing on providing up-to-date information, guidance, and reassurance to customers. Examples of effective communications, such as those from Tucson Water, are being collected and posted by the U.S. Water Alliance in their Value of Water Campaign. The main message is, “Your tap water is safe to drink.” Fact sheets on various related topics are available on the Value of Water Campaign website.
Read about Tucson Water’s COVID-19 communications here http://uswateralliance.org/sites/uswateralliance.org/files/VOW_COVIDRESOURCES_TAPWATERISSAFE.pdf
AWWA’s financial impact report https://www.awwa.org/Portals/0/AWWA/Communications/AWWA-AMWA-COVID-Report_2020-04.pdf
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