1 1 (May 13, 2020)

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               Researh Sevice






COVID-19 and Public Water Service

Continuity



Updated May 13, 2020
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has increased attention to several issues regarding
the provision of public water services. These include long-standing water-rate affordability concerns, the
importance of clean water to public health, and the financial sustainability of some public water systems
(whether publicly or privately owned). The spread of COVID- 19 has raised specific concerns regarding
the continuity of residential water services needed to support hand-washing and other public health
measures-particularly as more customers may become unable to pay water bills because of job losses or
reduced income. At the same time, water service providers are projecting substantial revenue losses
related to COVID-19. Policy options being discussed to alleviate such impacts and help ensure the
continuity of water service include providing temporary assistance to households and/or water systems.
The power to control water service shutoffs generally lies with state and local governments. In response
to COVID-19, most state public utility commissions have directed private/investor-owned utilities (and,
in some cases, other systems) to continue service during the pandemic. At least 15 states, the District of
Columbia, and Puerto Rico have directed publicly and privately owned systems to continue service. Six
of these states are also requiring water systems to reconnect service to residences where water had been
shutoff for non-payment. Other states have reached voluntary agreements with water systems not to
disconnect services during the pandemic. Also, numerous water utilities have committed to providing
service to non-paying customers. In light of these actions and other COVID-19 impacts, municipal and
rural water associations and others have urged Congress to provide temporary financial assistance to
water systems.

Water Service Pricing, Affordability, and Disconnections
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that the pricing of water services covers the
costs of providing service, for both operations and maintenance and capital expenses. Customers' water
bills typically support operations and maintenance costs and sometimes long-term capital investments.
Water system pricing structures vary (e.g., tiered rates to encourage conservation or flat rates for all
users). While systems generally have flexibility in determining a pricing structure, certain privately
owned systems (and, in some states, publicly owned systems) are subject to state and local requirements
that control rate increases.

                                                                 Congressional Research Service
                                                                   https://crsreports.congress.gov
                                                                                       IN11338


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