Measure would curb water shutoffs for Seattle families with kids

Mar 5, 2013

Thousands of Seattle families had their water shut off last year. A city council member is introducing a measure to help one group of them -- households with young children.

Social service providers told a city council committee what it’s like for parents to lose their water: unable to clean up after changing a diaper, forced to send kids to school unwashed and to borrow buckets to flush the toilet.

One provider, Bill Talbot of the Salvation Army Seattle White Center, was not speaking secondhand. Years ago he himself suffered an accident that cost him his income.

“Our water was shut off, then the meter was pulled. When you get to that point, you’re living in a house that’s no longer habitable. It is going to be condemned. Your children, they’re ashamed when they go to school.  As a parent, it’s devastating,” Talbot said.

Talbot says having running water should be considered a right, not a service that comes and goes.

Council member Jean Godden is proposing a measure to keep needy families with kids from having their water cut off by allowing low-income customers, already eligible for an annual subsidy, to access that help twice a year instead of once. Godden and Seattle Public Utilities say because of the lag in the billing cycle and delinquency notices, that’s all it would take to forestall a shut-off in most cases. The estimated $22,000 to pay for it would come from other ratepayers.

The measure only addresses the 3,000 or so families in the low-income discount program, 68 of whom lost their water last year. At least 4,000 other households had their water shut off, and it’s not clear how many of those included children.