COVID-19: Water Shutoff Moratorium for Homes and Critical Small Businesses
California Governor Restricts Water Supply Discontinuation for Non-Payment
In response to growing health and economic concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order that temporarily suspends water shutoffs for non-payment. The Order states that, to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is crucial that individuals maintain a source of clean water so that they can wash their hands regularly and thoroughly. The Order also states that the rising unemployment rates, loss of income and business closures have made it difficult for individuals and business to continue paying utility bills — potentially creating a significant health risk.
The Order prohibits “Urban and Community Water Systems,” meaning public water systems that supply water to more than 200 service connections, from discontinuing residential service for non-payment. “Residential service” means water service to a residential connection that includes: single-family residences, multifamily residences, mobile homes, mobile homes in mobile home parks and farmworker housing.
The Order further provides that water systems must restore any residential service to occupied residences that were discontinued for nonpayment since March 4, the date the statewide COVID-19 state of emergency went into effect. There is no requirement that the disconnected user must initially request service to be restored. As a result, water system providers are required to restore service to occupied residences, even if they receive no request for restoration of service.
However, water systems should take note that this Order does not eliminate the ability of the water system to charge for the service. Specifically, the Order does not: eliminate the obligation of water customers to pay for water service, prevent a water system from charging a customer for water services or implement a reduction in the amount a customer may already owe to the water system.
Additionally, the Order prohibits water systems from discontinuing service to any “small business” in the critical infrastructure sectors designated by the State Public Health Officer as critical in protecting the health and well-being of all Californians. The Small Business Administration regulations contain an exhaustive list of what qualifies as a “small business” in 13 C.F.R. § 121.201.
The Order also directs the State Water Resources Control Board to develop best practices and guidelines to assist the public and water systems in navigating through the COVID-19 emergency.
Best Best & Krieger will continue to provide updates on COVID-19 related Executive Orders as they are issued. If you have any questions regarding the shut-off prohibitions, please contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Special Districts practice group or your BB&K attorney.
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