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Opinion: Helping Water Ratepayers Stay Afloat During COVID

The pandemic has brought into even more compelling focus an important societal issue in San Diego County and California: How to ensure that everyone has access to safe and reliable water supplies. State estimates show there are approximately $1 billion in uncollected water bills statewide since the start of the pandemic that are directly attributable to household economic impacts associated with the pandemic.

Eric Heidemann-Welcome-Board-City of Poway

Welcome to the Board: Eric Heidemann, City of Poway

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights new members of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 36-member Board of Directors. Each of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies appoints at least one representative to the Board, which sets policy for the Water Authority.

Welcome to the Board: Eric Heidemann, City of Poway

Who: Eric Heidemann was seated on the Board of Directors on May 8, 2020, representing the City of Poway. Director Heidemann serves on the Imported Water and Engineering and Operations committees for the Water Authority.

Background/Education: University of Arizona, B.S. Business and M.S. Urban Planning

Water Industry Affiliations: 

City of Poway, Public Works Director

Metro Wastewater Commission JPA

American Water Works Association (AWWA)

American Public Works Association (APWA)

League of Californian Cities

Q & A

Q: How did you get interested in water issues?

A: I was born in California, raised in Arizona, and after graduating college – worked as a planner in Colorado.  I’ve spent my entire life in the Southwest. As a kid from Tucson, I lived through decade-long droughts and watched the Central Arizona Project (CAP) be constructed and deliver Colorado River water to southern Arizona.  That was a big deal back then.  In Colorado, I worked for a small town near Vail (at the headwaters of the Colorado River) and was responsible for managing development and the Town’s very senior water rights portfolio.  Currently, I’m the Director of Public Works for the City of Poway and responsible for, among other things, its water treatment and distribution systems.  I’m a product of the Southwest, and water has had a strong influence on my personal and professional life.

Q: What are your priorities or interests as a Board member?

A: My priorities as a Board member are to work hard, listen carefully, and add value wherever I can.  The SDCWA is a premier organization with excellent staff and strong administrative and financial policies.  I want to see that continue.  I don’t take the responsibly of being a Board Member lightly – I feel honored to work with some of the brightest minds in water.

Q: Besides maintaining safe and reliable water supplies, what do you see as the top three issues facing the San Diego region?

A:  Housing, transportation, and aging infrastructure.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?

A: Now that my kids are older I spend a lot of my free time running. Recently, I’ve been stretching myself by training for an ultra-marathon. It really helps me think, clear my mind, and reduce stress.

The Water Authority’s Board of Directors typically meets on the fourth Thursday of each month. The Board invites the public to attend its monthly meetings and to comment on agenda items or other matters before the Board. For meeting times, agendas and documents, go to www.sdcwa.org/board-directors.

Agencies Seek Relief Funds to Cover Delinquent Water Bills

Water agencies across the region are seeking help from the County of San Diego and the 18 incorporated cities in the county to provide essential financial relief for households throughout the county that are facing growing water bill delinquencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-Water Debt-Debt Relief-Coronvirus

Agencies Seek Relief Funds to Cover Delinquent Water Bills

Water agencies across the region are seeking help from the County of San Diego and the 18 incorporated cities in the county to provide essential financial relief for households throughout the county that are facing growing water bill delinquencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The water agencies are asking that the cities and the county allocate state and federal COVID relief funds to provide water bill offsets for financially strapped residents.

Local water suppliers “have not received any COVID-related funding assistance to help address the substantial water debt held by residents of our communities that would help to provide much-needed relief to water ratepayers,” according to mid-February letters from water officials to county and city leaders.

Helping with water debt repayment a “high priority”

“It’s very important to prioritize helping those San Diegans first who are at greatest risk of serious economic harm as a result of the pandemic so they can avoid exacerbating their dire financial conditions as the pandemic lingers,” said the letters. “We believe that helping residents with water debt repayment should be one of those high priorities, and we look forward to working with you in the coming weeks to ensure that COVID relief funds that you receive from the State or through direct federal allocation are shared in the same spirit of partnership that we reach out to you today.”

The letters were signed by the San Diego County Water Authority and 12 of its member agencies: the cities of Del Mar, Escondido and Oceanside, Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Vallecitos Water District, Vista Irrigation District, Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District, and Valley Center Municipal Water District. California American Water, which serves Coronado and Imperial Beach, also signed the letters.

Debt crisis

“The water suppliers would commit to see that any resources received are allocated directly to offset water bill delinquencies that have accumulated since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, or that have materially increased over the past 10 months,” said the letters.

“This accumulation of debt – along with other utility, rent, and unpaid bill debt – threatens to create a long-term and enveloping household economic crisis for thousands of San Diegans. While the water supplier community has worked closely with our Congressional partners and the Newsom Administration, there has not been COVID financial relief forthcoming directly to water suppliers to help customers with the growing crisis of household water debt.”

Pandemic-related water bill debt

Recent reports show that nearly 70,000 households in San Diego County have accumulated pandemic-related water bill debt. It is estimated that San Diego County customers alone owe as much as $50 million in water bill payments that are currently delinquent and in arrears as a direct result of the pandemic.

$1 billion in unpaid water bills

The State Water Resources Control Board recently released the results of a statewide survey of water systems which found that California residents owe an estimated $1 billion in unpaid water bills that have accumulated since the Governor issued COVID-related emergency orders in early April 2020.

Under California law, water agencies are prohibited from taking money from reserves to pay off the debt for ratepayers behind on their bills.  “As a result, an independent source of funds, separate and apart from rate revenue, is necessary to provide the types of rate offsets and relief that are so desperately needed by our customers,” the letters state.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 retail member agencies do not make a profit. Rather, rates and charges support the infrastructure and supply that provides the safe, reliable water that fuels the region’s economy and quality of life.

Water Authority Seeks to Reduce Water Costs Countywide

Addressing the San Diego region’s limited local water supplies with innovative ideas is something the San Diego County Water Authority has become known for. Using expertise gained from decades of successful planning and projects, the Water Authority is developing strategies to reduce the future cost of water that sustains the economy and quality of life across the county.

San Diegans Are Drowning in Water Debt During COVID-19

Once the water bills started piling up, Shara Sin and her children switched to eating off paper plates to avoid the cost of washing.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the 53-year-old mother of four’s finances were already precariously balanced. She doesn’t work anymore because mental health complications cause her short-term memory loss and pain.

Tens of Thousands of San Diegans Are in Debt Over Their Water Bills

The coronavirus pandemic shook the economy of the United States and San Diego.

More than 100,000 people in San Diego County lost their jobs last year, and many have made tough choices financially. That’s led, in part, to nearly a billion dollars in statewide water-bill debt, according to a new report from the state water board.

“Folks are trying to scrape by and make ends meet,” said Allen Carlisle, the CEO & general manager of Padre Dam Municipal Water District. “The first things on our minds are those families who are struggling and how do we try to help them?”

Delinquent Water Bills Could Create Problems for Consumers, Providers

California’s state water board is warning that residents and water agencies are facing financial pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

State officials estimate 1.6 million California households have delinquent water bills. They say that adds up to $1 billion in debt.

Water Authority Prevails in Two Rate Cases Against Los Angeles MWD

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled the San Diego County Water Authority is the prevailing party in the first of two lawsuits challenging rates and charges set by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The order entitles the Water Authority to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs in those cases, in addition to a $44 million damage and interest award made earlier.

Opinion: California Water Agencies are Feeling the Pandemic’s Financial Pinch. But the Water Will Keep Flowing

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen, it’s more important than ever that all Californians have reliable access to clean, safe water. At the most basic level, our health depends on it: water is essential for the handwashing and cleaning that helps eliminate the virus. Water also is indispensable for our food supply, jobs and economy.