CALIFORNIA—According to a January 19 report by the California State Water Resources Control Board, households in the state have water bills with a combined debt of $1 billion.

In a news release, the board confirmed that based on survey results, around “1.6 million residential water customers” have not been able to pay their bills.  That makes up 12 percent of California households.

E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the Board, said the “pandemic has made it difficult for many people to pay their bills due to job loss and other hardships.”

The water bill debt impacts low-income residents the most with the average debt reaching more than $1,000 across 155,000 households.

Some zip codes with the largest number of debt belong to: Colton, Norwalk, Santa Maria, Los Angeles, Rancho Cordova, and Cypress.

In addition, Esquivel said the results gives the board “the first clear picture of the impacts on Californians and our community water systems” and noted that the results are “critical data points to inform state and federal policymakers as we consider additional relief option for water systems and community members.”

On April 2, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that prevents water shut-offs due to residents being unable to pay their bills.  The order will expire after the state is no longer in an emergency, which Newsom first declared in March 2020.