Guest Post By Stacey Isaac Berahzer and Christine Boyle, PhD
Note: This is the second in a series of Valor Water Analytics blog posts exploring water affordability, customer nonpayment, and technology that can enable utilities to deliver water more equitably and sustainably to all customers. It was originally posted to Valor Water Analytics on April 22, 2019. You can read the first post here.
Where We Are Today: Identifying and Reaching Vulnerable Customers
In our last blog post, we discussed affordability topics that have been relatively well-covered in the water industry and academic research: the definition and measurement of affordability in the context of water service delivery, and an overview of customer assistance program (CAP) creation and funding. Though not necessarily solved, these issues have been discussed in many publications and conference proceedings. In this post, we will discuss a topic that has received less coverage: how a lack of customer information and contact data makes it difficult for utilities to increase CAP enrollment. Continue reading
Water systems across the country have approached drinking water affordability using different metrics and innovative solutions. While other parts of the country take on affordability at a local level, California is tackling this issue at the statewide level.
In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 685, declaring water to be a human right. This enactment not only made California the first state to legally recognize this basic need, but highlighted challenges that needed to be addressed in order to fulfill the State’s commitment. This post focuses on 1) the affordability challenge which has received national attention as California tries to implement the first statewide low-income rate assistance (LIRA) program and 2) other proposed or passed California legislation related to water affordability.
Why Water or Wastewater Utilities in Many States May Be Apprehensive to Fund Affordability Programs with Rate Revenue
One of the reports recently completed at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel provides an analysis of the legal and policy environment surrounding rate-setting for water and wastewater utilities in all fifty states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The report, Navigating Legal Pathways to Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs, attempts to answer the question of whether, state by state, water and wastewater utilities can implement assistance programs for low-income customers, where these programs are funded with rate revenue. However, after researching and drafting the summaries for each state, the black and white answers we were looking for, have turned out to be in fact, mostly gray. That is, in most states, there is not a clearly defined path that water and wastewater utilities can follow to legally fund affordability programs with rate revenue. Thus, despite the importance of ensuring affordable water for all, there are many utilities which don’t have these types of cross-subsidized affordability programs, perhaps, in part, due to this legal uncertainty. So why are some states black and white, while others remain gray?