Preliminary data from five water utilities of different sizes and different climates across the U.S. show variable impacts to consumption and billed revenue in response to the global pandemic. Some utilities saw a decline in primarily non-residential consumption of up to 19% and non-residential billed revenue of up to 8% in April, one full month into the pandemic, relative to April usage and revenue in the past three years. For some utilities, consumption and revenues remained similar to previous years. In general, that is good news—from these preliminary data, COVID-19 does not appear to be causing a ground shift in all water utility consumption and revenues. In general, residential customers are using water in similar amounts to previous years, and often more—one utility saw an increase in residential consumption of 14% in April 2020 compared to the average of the past three years. Annual rate increases and steady or increasing residential consumption results in billed revenue that appears to offset effects of the COVID-19 shutdowns. Importantly, our data reflect billed revenue, not actual revenue; delinquency or nonpayment rates remain a significant source of uncertainty for water utilities.
Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions