By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

The California African American Water Education Foundation (CAAWEF) will discuss rising water bills and how the impending expiration of water moratorium shutoffs will impact the African American community.

The conversation starts at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 24, and will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Earlier this year, the state Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) released a survey stating that public water systems throughout the state are facing “heightened financial challenges” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 1.6 million residential water customers, or 12% of households, were unable to pay their bills as of Jan. 19, the WRCB’s comprehensive survey reported.

Many low-income Californians face high levels of water bill debt, with more than 155,000 households owing more than $1,000. High debt levels are concentrated in ZIP codes with lower household incomes and higher proportions of Black and Latinx residents, according to the survey.

Rancho Cordova, 15 miles east of Sacramento, is one of the 10 ZIP codes (95742) with the highest levels of water debt in the state. The survey data indicated that total household debt statewide was $1 billion six months ago.

Even before the pandemic, a third of California residents, or about 13 million people, lived in poverty. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order April 2, 2020, to prevent water service shut-offs for nonpayment during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many people to pay their bills due to job loss and other hardships,” said WRCB Chairperson E. Joaquin Esquivel.  “Results of this survey are critical data points to inform state and federal policymakers as we consider additional relief options for water systems and community members.”

Formed in 2019, Sacramento-based nonprofit California African American Water Education Foundation (CAAWEF) provides water education and leadership training in the African American community. It provides information about water quality, rates, supply and resource management through education and outreach programs, working to educate individual community leaders and grassroots organizations about policies that impact the quality of water in their communities.

CAAWEF is governed by a regionally diverse board of directors composed of state leaders from water, business and the community-based organizations that embrace the vision for creating an informed African American community on water issues impacting their everyday lives.

For more information about the California African American Water Education Foundation and informative conversation about the water crisis, write to info@caawef.org.