Prayer Vigil To Halt Water Service Cutoffs

Aug 2, 2018

Bishop Tom Watson, in hat, leads a prayer vigil to stop the Sewerage and Water Board from cutting service to customers owing on water bills.
Credit Eileen Fleming / WWNO

The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board has resumed cutting off water service to 17,000 delinquent accounts. Several pastors from the group Justice and Beyond held a prayer service outside the board offices to protest the policy.

As people lined up inside to contest their bills, pastors from several New Orleans churches gathered outside, asking that customers be given until November to settle their bills. Disconnections can now resume as an eight-month moratorium was lifted yesterday. Amounts have soared on some accounts under a new billing system that many complain is still confusing. Customers who owe more than $50 for 2 months or more could be disconnected.

Steve Fred said he came to the board office to dispute his $600 bill. He was not successful.

“Evidently they didn’t read the meters. And what happens is there’s an accumulation that can be placed on your bill anytime.”    :09

So he set up a payment plan. Critics say not everyone has the money to pay bills that have somehow gone way up.  

Pastor Gregory Manning: 

“Give me an accurate bill and give us the opportunity to pay those accurate bills. What we’re concerned about is that people are going without eating, possibly going without taking medication, all of that so that they can keep their water turned on. Water is a human necessity and a human right," he said.

The SWB says people are asked to pay 25 percent of their bill and a payment plan will be set up giving each person a reasonable amount of time to catch up. Officials said there was no information on any service being cut yesterday. Crews hadn’t reported any shut-offs. They say the 17,000 delinquent accounts will be prioritized by the amount owed – the highest being first for disconnection. Letters are being sent out, notifying customers if they are delinquent. All bills must be officially -- and quickly-- disputed to avoid service disruption. The SWB says it hopes to hire more meter readers.