Public water and sewer companies are no longer allowed to shut off service during extremely cold weather, according to a rule adopted Oct. 20 by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
The new rule applies to nonmunicipal public utilities, according to a news release. Those companies cannot disconnect water and sewer services or issue late fees during cold-weather emergencies.
PUCT spokesperson Rich Parsons said nonmunicipal utility providers are “investor-owned or private companies, districts and authorities, [water supply corporations] and affected counties.” This refers to any utilities that are not run by a city.
An extreme cold-weather emergency occurs when the highest temperature does not pass 28 degrees Fahrenheit and is expected to remain at that level for at least 24 hours, according to the release. The emergency ends after the temperature exceeds 28 degrees for two straight business days.
“The new rules put the health and safety of Texans first during extreme cold-weather emergencies,” PUCT Chair Peter Lake said in the release. “This means Texans can focus on their family’s safety during extreme cold and work with their water or sewer utility to make sure they pay their bills in a timely fashion.”
Customers will have 30 days to request a payment schedule if they are worried about paying their bills, according to the PUCT.
The new rule was required under Senate Bill 3, which passed in May 2021 following Winter Storm Uri. Over two-thirds of Texans lost power during the storm, and nearly half lost access to running water, according to previous reporting by Community Impact.
Nonmunicipal utility companies are required to inform their customers of the new rule by Jan. 31.