Home California Senate Passes Sen. Dodd’s Water Access & Equity Bill

Senate Passes Sen. Dodd’s Water Access & Equity Bill

Press Release

by ECT
Senator Bill Dodd

SACRAMENTO – With hundreds of thousands of Californians falling behind on their water bills, the state Assembly approved legislation from Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, to establish a water utility assistance fund to prevent low-income families from losing access to this essential service.

“Rising water rates coupled with pandemic job losses threaten to cut off many California families from an essential service – water,” Sen. Dodd said. “No one should be denied access, regardless of their income level or economic status. Today’s vote is a step toward ensuring low-income customers get the help they need to keep the tap open. I thank my Assembly colleagues for supporting this measure.”

Sen. Dodd’s legislation comes as the State Water Resources Control Board heard results of a survey that found water debt in California climbed to about $1 billion. The survey estimated 12% of California households are behind on their water bills with an average debt of $500 per household. Many of those people are on the brink of service disconnection.

Senate Bill 222 would prevent shutoffs by establishing a water assistance fund for low-income rate payers experiencing economic hardship. It would build on Sen. Dodd’s earlier legislation. His Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act, or Assembly Bill 401, commissioned a study for how to address affordability. It resulted in recommendations including this new fund. He also wrote The Water Shutoff Protection Act, or SB 998, which provided significant safeguards against water disconnections.

SB 222 was approved with overwhelming Assembly support. It heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom for a signature following Senate concurrence vote.

“Today, we’re making history by creating a statewide low-income water rate assistance program,” Susana De Anda, executive director and co-founder of Community Water Center. “For the first time our hardworking families will have access to critical support that will make their water bills affordable. This program brings us one step closer to achieving the Human Right to Water in California.”

Senator Bill Dodd represents the 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Solano, Yolo, Sonoma, Contra Costa, and Sacramento counties. You can learn more about the district and Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.



SB 222, as amended, Dodd. Water Rate Assistance Program.
Existing law, the California Safe Drinking Water Act, requires the State Water Resources Control Board to administer provisions relating to the regulation of drinking water to protect public health. Existing law declares it to be the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.
Existing law requires the state board, by January 1, 2018, to develop a plan for the funding and implementation of the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program, as prescribed. Existing law requires the state board, by February 1, 2018, to report to the Legislature on its findings regarding the feasibility, financial stability, and desired structure of the program, including any recommendations for legislative action that may need to be taken.
This bill would establish the Water Rate Assistance Fund in the State Treasury to help provide water affordability assistance, for both drinking water and wastewater services, to low-income residential ratepayers. The bill would make moneys in the fund available upon appropriation by the Legislature to the state board to provide, in consultation with relevant agencies, direct water bill assistance, water bill assistance to low-income residential ratepayers served by eligible systems, as defined, and by tribal water and wastewater systems that choose to participate and would require 80% of total funds expenditures from the fund to be directly applied to residential ratepayer accounts. The bill would require the state board, to the extent feasible, cost effective, and permitted under the California Constitution, to identify and contract with one or more third-party fund administrators. providers. The bill would impose requirements on the state board in connection with the program, including, among others, within 270 days of the effective date, as defined, adopting guidelines in consultation with relevant agencies and an advisory group for implementation of the program and preparing a report to be posted on state board’s internet website identifying how the fund has performed. The bill would require the guidelines to include minimum requirements for eligible systems, including the ability to confirm eligibility for enrollment through a request for self-certification of eligibility under penalty of perjury. By expanding the crime of perjury, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
The bill would require, within 365 days of the effective date, the Public Utilities Commission to establish a mechanism for electrical corporations and gas corporations to, and would authorize the state board or third-party providers to enter into agreements with local publicly owned electric utilities and local publicly owned gas utilities to, regularly share specified customer data with the state board or third-party providers, subject to certain protections. The bill would require the state board to, among other things, coordinate with the commission to align criteria between all existing water rate assistance programs offered by investor-owned utilities and to ensure timely processing of payments to investor-owned utilities.
The bill would make the operation of these provisions contingent on an appropriation in the annual Budget Act or another statute for these purposes.
The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.

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