Community Environment

Thousands of Louisville Water Company customers are behind on their bills and at risk of the utility shutting off their water, but a new assistance program could offer relief.

Around 3,500 customers owe money on their account. On average, it’s $719 in unpaid bills, which reflects money owed for Louisville Water Company’s drinking water and Metropolitan Sewer District wastewater services.  

Affordability is an ever-present issue, but we don’t want an unpaid bill to leave customers in a bind. It’s important we hear from customers who struggle. We want to help,” said Kelley Dearing-Smith, Louisville Water Company spokesperson.

In December, Louisville Metro’s Office of Resilience and Community Services opened a new program to help families cover the costs for those water bills. The Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) launched with $1.2 million in funding, but the city has already spent most of that, Dearing-Smith said. 

“Metro has nearly used all of the initial funding,” Dearing-Smith said. “We are hopeful for another allocation of [LIHWAP] funding, but there is no certainty.”  

The LIHWAP program is similar to its counterpart that helps cover electricity bills, said Brandon O’Neal, Louisville Metro LIHEAP program supervisor. The new program has helped offset some of the higher bills he’s seen in Jefferson County, he said. 

“The pandemic has brought on a lot of challenges for folks to keep their home heated, their water on,” he said. “People will come in, they’re very grateful, especially with the implementation of the new water program.” 

Residents eligible for LIHWAP must live in Jefferson County, have a past due amount on their bill and have a household income at or below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines — about $3,300 a month for a family of four. Louisville Water customers can also apply for assistance through the utility’s Drops of Kindness program.  

Louisville Water Co. resumed disconnecting customers for-nonpayment last June. 

The utility has shut off drinking water for an average of 800 customers per month since then, totaling around 4,700 disconnections over the last six months, Dearing-Smith said. The average balance owed last year was $1,292 for customers behind on their bills.

Still, more than 20,000 customers were able to receive around $9 million in assistance through Drops of Kindness, Louisville Water and MSD’s affordability program, Dearing-Smith said. 

Louisville Water Co. is a private company, but Dearing-Smith said that unlike any other water utility in the country, it does have a single shareholder: Louisville Metro Government. 

Every year, Louisville Water Co. pays a dividend to the city. That amounted to $36.9 million in 2020, the latest number available. The city puts that money in the general fund, and it’s not reserved for any particular use. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.