Energy & Environment

Houston Will Adjust High Water Bills For Residents Impacted By Freeze

People living in single-family homes will receive an automatic adjustment, while those in multi-family homes and commercial properties will need to apply.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
West Street Recovery’s Martin Uribe sorts through plumbing repair pieces as he works to repair busted pipes that were frozen during a recent winter storm, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Houston. Houston City Council passed an ordinance that would provide relief to people with high water bills from the storm.

Houstonians facing unusually high water bills from last month's winter storm will receive quick relief from the city.

Houston City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed an ordinance implementing a utility relief program that will adjust affected water bills, suspend fees for late payments, and suspend utility disconnections for households with unexpectedly high water and wastewater consumption related to the storm.

At last week’s City Council Quality Of Life Committee hearing laying out the plan, Erik Dunn of the city’s Department of Public Works said it was aimed at quickly getting money to those who need it.

"We typically don’t do the adjustments until after there’s evidence of repairs done,” Dunn said. “In this case, understanding the severity and impact of the storm, it’s going to be an immediate adjustment that’s done on customers’ bill.”

February’s winter storm — which brought snow, sleet and freezing temperatures to Greater Houston — led to widespread power outages, and freezing pipes that burst and impacted water pressure for days on end.

About one quarter of Houston households experienced a leak during the winter storm, according to the city's public works department.

Bills will be automatically adjusted for people living in single-family residential homes, with no need to apply or document damage. The program is also available for multi-family and commercial utility customers through an application process.

Under the ordinance, people will pay either the average monthly usage billed over the previous 12 months before the storm, or the monthly billed consumption that includes the storm period — whichever is lower.

If an account is billed automatically, residents can either cancel the automatic payment to allow time for the adjustment to take place, or receive a credit on the next bill.

"We have gotten so many phone calls from residents worried about their water bill," At-Large City Council member Letitia Plummer said. "So I just wanted to say thank you for the leadership on this and for Public Works Director (Carol) Haddock for making this happen and making sure we take care of Houstonians."

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