Water Utilities Take Steps to Protect Iowans
by Alicia Vasto on Wednesday, April 15, 2020
It’s no secret that energy and clean water are necessary to fight the spread of COVID-19. Iowa’s regulators and utilities are taking steps to protect Iowans during the pandemic by implementing emergency policies, such as suspending customer disconnections, offering payment plans, and/or waiving late fees for the duration of the statewide disaster proclamation.
The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) issued an order on March 27 suspending customer disconnects due to non-payment for all investor-owned, municipal, and cooperative gas and electric utilities and investor-owned water utilities. Utilities outside the purview of IUB, including municipal and rural water utilities, were urged to follow the same policy.
In advance of the IUB’s request, the Iowa Association of Water Agencies (IAWA), a Member Organization of IEC, and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities were already in discussions with their member utilities about implementing emergency policies. Both associations report that their water utility members have voluntarily suspended disconnections. Consensus among the water utilities is that handwashing and other hygienic practices are necessary to slow the spread of the virus, so it would be dangerous to terminate water service during this time.
Many water utilities allow payment plans for customers experiencing financial hardship. Check with your local utility to find out if they have implemented or expanded payment programs during the pandemic.
Water and wastewater utilities run on tight budgets and a significant portion of their operating costs are fixed. They have limited ways to cut expenses in response to reduced cash flow. Utilities are also incurring significant expenses for measures taken to ensure their continuous operations while protecting the health of their staff. Consequently, water utilities are asking customers to pay as much as possible on their water bills.
John North of IAWA says that water utilities are “now facing a double whammy.” Water usage and billed sales will likely be down due to the economic slowdown, resulting in reduced capital. Combined with non-payments due to customer financial hardships, water utilities are likely to experience severe cash flow problems for an extended period. This could ultimately result in higher rates for customers down the road.
Like everyone else, water utilities are asking how much the economic downturn will affect them, and how long it will last. As the public health crisis continues, the challenges for water utilities will continue to grow.
- clean water
- drinking water
- energy efficiency
- public health
- water quality