SAN DIEGO — Federal money is on the way to low-income water customers in San Diego County. A new emergency relief program could help thousands of San Diegans struggling to pay their water bills.  

The program helps with past due bills that thousands of California’s have already taken advantage of.

“A lot of these programs they are a lifeline for our customers,” said Carlos Quintero, the general manager of Sweetwater Authority.

Sweetwater Authority serves roughly 26,000 residential customers in National City, Western Chula Vista and Bonita. Sweetwater is now telling their customers of a new federal emergency relief program, known as the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP).

The program gives up to $2,000 to help low-income water customers manager their past due bills — this is a one-time payment for customers.

California has been given a one-time payment of $116 million to pay for LIHWAP. Eligibility is based on income. Customers must have a past due balance on their water or wastewater bill.

Customers must receive service from a community water system or wastewater treatment provider. Private wells and septic systems are excluded.

The customer’s water or wastewater system must also be enrolled in the program. Renters may also qualify if their water or wastewater bill is included in their rental payment.

Sweetwater said they send out about 250 delinquency or shut off notices a week. LIHWAP is already making strides with the Sweetwater customers.

Gregg Harpeneau-Parks, customer service manager at Sweetwater Authority, says “it’s either paid off their bill completely, left a small credit, or left them with a very small balance.

:So, it really is having quite a positive impact, I know this is the tip of the iceberg. We’ve gotten several more emails this week, letting us know that 10 to 15 more customers have been approved,” Harpenau-Parks said.

Through LIHWAP, Sweetwater Authority has received $24,412 for 26 accounts, however, they said long-term assistance is the next step.

“If this has been an issue with COVID and it continues, and you know inflation is a significant issue, what happens after customer receive this assistance, are we going to be in a similar situation a year from now, so that is a concern,” Quintero said.

People will need to fill out an eligibility form online before August 2023. Customers are also encouraged to call their water provider if they need help paying their bills.