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S&WB relying on estimated water bills as coronavirus causes staff shortage

The utility says it cannot complete its meter-reading routes and will have to solely use its historically inaccurate bill estimating practice.

NEW ORLEANS — Sewerage and Water Board officials say the new coronavirus has caused a significant shortage in the utility's manpower and, as a result, they will now have to rely solely on estimating customers' bills. 

"Very few" S&WB employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the potentially life-threatening respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, officials said. However, additional workers have been exposed and are under quarantine, making the utility unable to fill its ranks of water meter readers.

For the portion of the roughly 137,000 S&WB customers who were scheduled to have their meters read manually this week, this means they'll now be charged based on the average of their daily water usage over the past four months. 

"We ask for patience among our commercial customers during this declared emergency. We understand many businesses are closed to promote social distancing and to keep our city as safe as possible, and therefore will be using substantially less water and sewer services," S&WB officials said in a statement Wednesday. 

"As a result, the estimates may not reflect the lower use of the last couple of weeks." 

Officials said all discrepancies in estimating will be processed once they return to full meter-reading practices, and customer accounts will be credited based off the differences in actual water usage. 

All customers are urged to continue paying their bills, although the S&WB is not charging late fees for the months of March and April and water shutoffs have been suspended to help residents economically impacted by the pandemic.  

"The funds help us continue to provide clean water so that you and your neighbors can protect your households’ health during this pandemic," the S&WB statement read. 

According to the S&WB guidelines, water usage that is not physically read by an empolyee at the meter is billed based off the customer's last four readings, and how much water they used per day during that time. That amount gets averaged out and applied to the next bill. 

The S&WB requires that at least two of the four readings used to estimate bills must have been physical readings, not estimations themselves. 

To read more about how the S&WB estimates bills, click here

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