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New state rule keeps water customers connected during cold weather
The Public Utility Commission of Texas now prohibits some water utility companies from disconnecting customers' water during extreme temperatures.
As we near some potentially cold winter months, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) has issued a new rule affecting retail public water and sewer companies, and districts or counties providing retail water or sewer utilities. Municipal-owned utilities are not affected by this legislation.
Effective October 20, 2022, these public utility services cannot impose late fees or disconnect services for nonpayment of bills during "an extreme weather emergency." Violators may face a civil penalty.
The rule applies to non-municipal public water and sewer companies, such as investor-owned utilities, water supply corporations, water districts (including special utility districts) and counties. If this rule is applicable to your freshwater or sewer utility company, you will have until January 31, 2023 to notify your customers of the update. The notice must be written in both English and Spanish to inform your customers of the new requirements that might affect them during extreme weather events.
Here's an example of a notice with sample language you can send to your customers.
"The new rules put the health and safety of Texans first during extreme cold weather emergencies," said PUCT Chairman Peter Lake in the commission's press release. "This means Texans can focus on their family's safety during extreme cold and work their water or sewer utility to make sure they pay their bills in a timely fashion."
According to the PUCT, extreme cold weather emergencies are issued when the previous day's highest temperature in the area did not exceed 28 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperature is expected to remain at or below that level for the next 24 hours. The emergency is lifted when the temperature exceeds 28 degrees on the next business day.
Under this new rule, customers will have 30 days to request a payment schedule. Your company is then required to offer said payment schedule for unpaid bills.
The Association of Water Board Directors (AWBD), Office of Public Utility Counsel (OPUS), San Antonio Water System (SAWS), and Texas Rural Water Association (TRWA), among others, provided comments regarding the proposal prior to it's approval.
Companies like those affected by this new rule can also utilize technology to protect their systems during inclement weather. An intelligent software solution can reduce the risk of travel during icy conditions by allowing operators to monitor and control conditions of pumps, pipelines, and more - all from the safety of their home or office.
If extreme weather is a threat to your water infrastructure, consider how to ensure better visibility and uptime, even through severe freezes.