California water utilities could leave families high and literally dry by refusing to apply for nearly $1 billion in water debt relief for their customers before the December 6 deadline, Capital and Main reports. A quarter of California households were behind on their drinking water bill in August and the state’s shutoff moratorium lifts January 1, 2022. The state created a water debt relief fund to prevent drinking water shutoffs in the middle of a global pandemic, but about a third of California’s water systems refuse to complete the application. Many utilities “clearly don’t want to participate in a program like this,” Michael Claiborne, directing attorney, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, told Capital and Main, because they are “eager to return to water shutoffs as a collection tool, and are not interested in accepting state money that comes with state oversight.” 

More than 80% of the available debt relief fund remained unclaimed as of earlier this week, but the window for utilities to get debt relief for struggling California families during the holiday season is still open. “It’s free money — please apply,” Uriel Saldivar, a senior policy advocate with the Community Water Center, urged utilities. “The residents need it.” (Capital and Main)