Bill to help low-income households with water bills and leak repairs is up for vote | News

A bill is now up for vote that would help low-income households pay their water bills and help them repair a leak.

Senators brought the bill to a vote 273-37 during the legislative session on Friday after many of them expressed support for the measure.

The bill would authorize the Guam Waterworks Authority to establish a Customer Assistance Program (CAP) that would provide additional bill payment assistance, loan rebates, and fee waivers for low- or fixed-income ratepayers.

The program would also provide assistance with leak detection and repair.

Parliamentary speaker Therese Terlaje, a co-signatory of the bill, said the island is facing drought and the only way to preserve the valuable resource is to repair water leaks.

“They are expecting a drought after El Niño,” she said.

Other jurisdictions in the U.S. have implemented similar programs to ensure everyone has access to clean water, Terlaje added.

Currently, if a water leak occurs on a customer's private property, they must pay for the repair themselves. For low- or fixed-income residents, the cost of repairs in the hundreds or thousands of dollars is unaffordable.

Terlaje said if the bill passes, GWA could, with the customer's consent, enter their property and help them find and repair the leak.

The costs are expected to be covered by grants that GWA will apply for from the American Water Works Association and others, the spokesman said.

If GWA wants to fund the program through consumer revenue, it would first have to get approval from the Public Utilities Commission, she said.

The bill also provides for discounts and rebates for customers who use water-saving fittings.

By reducing the amount of water released, GWA also saves operating costs, which in turn benefits Guam's ratepayers.

“It is imperative that water conservation measures are implemented to protect our vital water resource and sustain life on Guam,” the spokesman said.

The GWA is expected to establish rules and regulations regarding who qualifies for the CAP.

Chris Budasi, GWA's deputy general manager, told senators during a public hearing on the bill in May that they estimate about 8,700 clients would be eligible for the program, based on 21 percent of the local population being SNAP recipients.

Budasi said the cost of GWA would be about $5 million.

Terlaje said the bill could also grant an extension of compliance deadlines for GWA on major projects like the Hagåtña Wastewater Treatment Plant. Without the CAP, GWA is less likely to be considered for the Clean Water Act's extended compliance deadlines, she said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency requires GWA to carry out costly secondary treatment at the plant. However, a CAP could grant Guam an extension.

“This is one of the other benefits of this law, in addition to the direct help it provides to customers,” Terlaje said.

Senator Chris Barnett said so many people lived below the poverty line that the bill would be of great benefit to many.

“I ask my colleagues to support it to help the less fortunate on our island maintain their access to the life-giving liquid of water,” he said.

He praised the bill's lead sponsor, Senator Sabina Perez, for promoting the legislation, which he said was long overdue.

“I think it will greatly benefit those on our island who need it most,” Barnett added.