Elderly San Diegans Struggle To Pay Water Bills

Seniors Dealing With High Cost Of Living, Reduced Social Security Income

As the cost of living and water rates continue to rise, one elderly La Jolla woman has taken extreme measures just to make sure she has water.

For much of San Diego's elderly population, life is getting harder. Social Security payments from the federal government have not increased since 2008. Making matters worse, under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California-funded Social Security payments decreased $50 each month. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed cutting the payments an additional $15 a month.

At the same time, the cost of living has sharply increased. In some districts, water rates have increased about 60 percent. The price of gas has doubled and raised prices on food and household items.

The combination of a higher cost of living and less income is hurting thousands of elderly San Diegans.

70-year-old La Jolla resident Patricia Bryant lives only on her Social Security payments. After paying her medical bills, she only has $648 a month to pay for her house, food and other bills. Bryant said her recent San Diego water bills totally surprised her.

"There was one for $146. Then, I saw one for $172 and it seems like they're getting worse and worse," she said.

Because Bryant wasn't able to pay her bills, her water was shut off. The San Diego Water Department told her it would cost $548 to turn it back on. That would cost almost her entire monthly income.

"When you're getting $648, there's no way you can pay that much just for water," said Bryant.

David Peffer, a staff attorney with the Utility Consumers' Advocate Network, told 10News, "The city starts imposing fees and disconnection charges and deposits and a bill of $100 [or] $110 can, like in her case, go up to $500."

For two weeks, Bryant filled up buckets at the public restrooms at the beach so she could have water at home. She spoke with a water official who agreed to cut her bill in half and turned her water back on.

A recent water survey at Bryant's home revealed she was using only 22 gallons of water a day. The typical San Diego home uses an average of 143 gallons of water per person per day. Yet, Bryant's bills were still going up.

"There's no reward for conserving water whatsoever," she said.

Peffer said, "You can't conserve your way out of high water bills. That's completely unfair."

Paul Downey, the president of the Senior Community Centers, applauded corporations like SDG&E for having low-income assistance programs that help the elderly pay their bills without the threat of having their gas or electricity turned off. The San Diego Water Department does not have a similar program.

"The city of San Diego absolutely needs to step up and have some sort of a program to help low-income seniors be able to make their payments," said Downey.

A water payment program would save Bryant from future trips to the beach for water.

"Water is a necessity," said Downey. "You can't cut off anybody's water, let alone a frail senior."

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