On Jan. 2, the city of Atlanta began shutting off water for as many as 27,000 customers with delinquent, unpaid bills. The customers affected will range from single-family residences to commercial locations.
The controversial move is the first instance in 12 years where the city has shut off services due to nonpayment.
If you are one of the customers or businesses who potentially may be affected by this shut off, here’s what you need to know.
Wait, the city let bills go unpaid for 12 years?
The issue of water is not new to the city, with leniency first being introduced by former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed back in 2010.
There have been some reports of an informal policy that extended over two mayoral administrations requiring services to stay on, no matter if the bill had been paid. In March 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms instituted a 60-day period of amnesty in an effort to promote health and wellness.
“The health and wellbeing of Atlanta residents is at the forefront of everything we do as a city,” Bottoms said at the time. “Access to water is paramount in the prevention of COVID-19 or any infectious health threat and no one should be deprived of this fundamental resource because of an inability to pay.”
So, why now?
At a Dec. 13 meeting of Atlanta City Council’s City Utilities Committee, Watershed Commissioner Mikita Browning stated the city had acquired more than $121 million in backdated debts. Browning also cited a $50 million increase in collections caused by the city’s priority to provide services to all its residents during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To aid in financial hardships during the pandemic, Atlanta previously created the Flexible Levels, Options, & Affordable Terms Initiative (F.L.O.A.T) aimed at helping single-family households get back on track with their service payments. The program, which offered account adjustments, one-time grants, credits, and interest-free payment plans ranging from six to 24 months for residents with a minimum outstanding account balance of $300, ended Jan 1, 2023.
Appointments that were made to meet with the F.L.O.A.T team prior to the Jan. 1 deadline will still be honored.
What are the mayor and city leaders saying?
In a statement, the city’s Department of Watershed Management said that it currently has “more than 20,000” accounts at risk of disconnection but is placing “fairness, responsibility and compassion” through additional aid at the top of their priorities in addressing the needs of their customers.
“We will offer payment plans, as well as connect them with local resources for financial assistance through federal funds available via the Low-Income Water Assistance Program and DWMs Bill Payment Assistance Programs both managed through DWMs Care and Conserve Program,” the statement said.
Capital B Atlanta reached out to Mayor Andre Dickens’ office for comment, but was unable to reach an official by the time of publication.
How long will this process take place?
Outside of notifying residents that shut-offs started on Jan. 2, the city has yet to share a timeline for the full process. However, the 27,000 accounts won’t be all closed at once.
How are residents being made aware of potential shutoffs?
Officials with the DWM said that the department had been notifying residents of the pending shutdown via bill statements, door postings and phone calls.
Will this only affect residents in the city?
Atlanta’s DWM provides more than 1.2 million customers with drinking water. That service area includes residents who live in the city of Atlanta, northwest DeKalb County, a small portion of Clayton County and parts of North and South Fulton County.
What if I haven’t received notice from the Watershed Department? How can I check?
Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management has a customer service line available for residents to call and ask questions about their outstanding bill, request repairs, and ask general service questions.
You can contact the department by phone at (404) 546-0311 outside city limits from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call 311 within city limits from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also use an online form to submit requests for service.
Capital B Atlanta made several independent attempts to contact the DWM’s customer service line, but the call dropped each time before we were connected with an actual agent.
Our best advice: head down to Atlanta City Hall Annex in Downtown at 55 Trinity Ave. SW, 1st Floor, Ste. 1650, or 2 City Plaza at 72 Marietta St. NW, to speak with customer service representatives in person.
What resources are available?
Check your meter for a leak
Does your bill seem unusually high? The city of Atlanta’s water system is old, which can result in hidden leaks that may be the reason your water bill is higher than normal.
You can request a water meter check via the Customer Service line at (404) 546-0311 or 311. Repairs for leaks found from distribution lines from the main to the meter or in transmission lines are the city’s responsibility.
Low-Income Housing Water Assistance Program
This federally funded program provides payment assistance to low-income residents with past-due bills and residents who are currently up to date on their payments with a $200-$300 advance payment toward future bills.
Operated through the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority, eligible residents can find information to set an appointment here.
The program is also extended to Fulton County residents that reside in Roswell, Fairburn, College Park and East Point.
Care and Conserve Program
This city-operated program provides assistance to moderate-income customers with payment assistance and plumbing assistance funded by grants from local nonprofit organizations. Eligible customers must have a past-due balance of $300 or more to qualify and must be the primary customer and resident in the property for which assistance is requested.
Residents can apply online and find out more information about necessary documentation and eligibility requirements here. You can also call the Care and Conserve office at (404) 546-3620 to request an application by mail.
Are you an Atlanta resident who has been affected by the shutoff? We want to hear from you. Reach out to our community engagement reporter, Sydney Sims, at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story has been updated.