Three CWA-Sponsored Customer Protection Bills Signed into Law
Bills to take effect January 1, 2017
SACRAMENTO–Governor Jerry Brown today signed the last of three bills sponsored by the California Water Association (CWA) in the 2016 California legislative session that strengthen customer benefits and protections in the Water Code and Public Utilities Code. CWA represents 108 investor-owned water companies (IOWC) throughout the state that are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
Assembly Bill 1180 (C. Garcia) directs the CPUC to evaluate the potential for repealing transaction fees levied on IOWC customers paying their water bills by credit or debit card, or by other forms of electronic or on-line payment. Assembly Bill 2874 (Gaines) ensures the CPUC is notified about costs imposed by groundwater sustainability agencies that ultimately will be passed on to IOWC customers. And Senate Bill 1456 (Galgiani) extends the current loan forgiveness provisions available to government water agencies under California’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program to all community water systems with 3,300 or fewer service connections serving a disadvantaged community—including those regulated by the CPUC. For the regulated utilities, the loan forgiveness provision applies to capital improvements made by these systems.
“California Water Association and its member companies are committed to protecting customers from fees and other costs that are unnecessarily and unfairly imposed,” said CWA President Greg Milleman. Milleman, who is Director of Field Operations for California Water Service Company, also said, “CWA thanks the Governor and Assembly Member Cristina Garcia, Assembly Member Beth Gaines and Senator Cathleen Galgiani for their leadership in working to ensure IOWC customers receive the same protections and benefits afforded to customers of municipal water providers.”
Assembly Bill 1180, authored by Assembly Member Cristina Garcia—Payment transaction fees for water service
AB 1180 directs the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to evaluate the potential for repealing a transaction fee levied on customers who pay their water utility bill by credit or debit card, or by other forms of electronic or on-line payment. Public Utilities Code §755 requires this transaction fee unless and until the CPUC determines that the use of these forms of payment would result in no net cost to the utility. This transaction fee applies only to regulated utilities and is not the case for government utilities or state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, and has become a significant source of complaint when customers are confronted with this additional charge.
AB 1180 creates a pilot program that allows participating water utilities to waive the transaction fee for customers paying by credit or debit card, or other non-traditional forms of payment, and to collect information from customers in order to assist the CPUC with evaluating whether it is necessary to treat these types of payments differently than traditional forms of payment, the costs of which are already covered in all customers’ rates.
The text of AB 1180 is available here.
Assembly Bill 2874, authored by Assembly Member Beth Gaines—Fees imposed by Groundwater Sustainability Agencies
AB 2874 protects IOWC customers from unwarranted fees and/or other financial requirements imposed by Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) formed pursuant to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA).
Because SGMA authorizes a GSA to impose fees on permitting, groundwater extraction or other activities to fund the costs of a groundwater sustainability program, the regulated IOWCs need to ensure CPUC approval of those fees and expenses, especially when the local agencies have excluded IOWCs from membership in the GSA.
The bill ensures the CPUC is notified when a GSA is imposing costs that ultimately will be passed on to utility customers.
The text of AB 2874 is available here.
Senate Bill 1456, authored by Senator Cathleen Galgiani—Financing of water systems under the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Law of 1997
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program for nearly 20 years has provided low-interest loans to water utilities of all types for drinking water infrastructure projects. Historically, there have been two ways to secure funds under this program: Proposition 1, for which regulated utilities are eligible; and loan forgiveness, for which regulated utilities are eligible under federal rules, but not in California.
SB 1456 corrects this omission by, among other things, applying the loan forgiveness provision to capital improvements made by a CPUC-regulated water utility serving a system that is located in a disadvantaged community and with less than 3,300 service connections. Additionally, the bill specifically provides that any eligible water system other than regulated water utilities serving a severely disadvantaged community with 200 connections or fewer is automatically deemed not to have the ability to pay back the loan and is therefore eligible for the principal forgiveness provision.
The text of SB 1456 is available here.
California Water Association
The California Water Association represents 108 regulated water utilities in California. Its members provide safe, reliable, high-quality water service to approximately 6 million Californians. https://calwaterassn.com