In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the
Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD) desires to provide its
members helpful information as you deal with the day-to-day operations of
your utility systems.
NRWA Statement on the COVID-12 Virus
The National Rural Water Association has issued a Statement on the
COVID-12 Virus which can be found on the NRWA Website: https://nrwa.org/newsandmedia/news/.
Suspending the Termination of Water Service for Nonpayment
Some public water systems in Tennessee have decided to temporarily
suspend the termination of water service for non-payment due to the
coronavirus pandemic. Other water systems in Tennessee are considering
the feasibility of plans to do the same. TAUD and its member utilities
know that customers need access to clean drinking water, need to be able
to practice good hygiene by washing their hands frequently, and need
water for proper medical treatment.
The decision about whether to continue to enforce a utility's termination
of service policy is a decision for each utility to make. To date, no
Tennessee or federal law mandates that utility systems cannot terminate
service for non-payment due to the coronavirus pandemic. While plans and
policies differ with the individual utility, the utility should consider
options which allow customer service to remain in place but keep a
systemís water and wastewater utility revenue intact. These options might
- Extending the utility's regular cutoff date to
give customers additional time to pay before service is terminated.
- Institute an agreement with a customer to spread
out the payment of a monthly bill for a set number of months and add
that amount to the customerís monthly bills for the agreed time
- Make referrals to agencies in the area that
assist with utility bills (charities, religious organizations, local
- Consider the implementation of a program which
will allow customers to make voluntary contributions by paying an
extra amount on their monthly bills to create a fund to assist
customers who cannot pay their bills.
- Because utility termination of service policies
are generally established by the utilityís governing board, changes
may require board action.
As a reminder, any option chosen should not be a
cancellation of any utility bills, and customers should be encouraged to
continue paying their bills promptly while offering alternative payment
options during the public health emergency. Utilities should be careful
not create unreasonable and precedent setting expectations.
New Legislation to Permit Electronic Board Meetings
The Tennessee General Assembly is passing legislation to amend the
Tennessee Open Meetings Act (the Sunshine Law) to allow members of the
governing boards of local governments in Tennessee to participate in
board meetings electronically for a limited period of time1.
At the time of this Update, there are minor differences in the bills
passed by committees in the House and Senate. This legislation applies to
the governing boards of utility districts, utility authorities, and
municipal and county utility boards. To hold a meeting electronically,
certain conditions must be met for the electronic meeting to meet the
requirements of the Sunshine Law. Generally, the conditions which must be
met are as follows:
- The governing body may conduct an electronic
board meeting without a quorum present when the board determines
that a meeting by electronic means is necessary to prevent the
spread of COVID-19 or other related epidemics so as to protect the
health, safety, and welfare of the public and governing board
- The governing body must document in the minutes
of the board meeting the facts and circumstances which support the
decision that meeting electronically is necessary to prevent the
spread of COVID-19 or other related epidemics.
- Each board member participating electronically
must able to simultaneously hear each other and speak to each other
during the meeting.
- Any board member participating electronically
must identify persons present in the location where the board member
- To the extent practicable, a board member
attending a meeting electronically must be provided with any
documents discussed or made available for the meeting.
- If the governing body decides that limiting the
publicís physical presence is necessary to protect the public
health, safety and welfare, then the governing body must provide
reasonable public electronic access to the meeting and must record
the board meeting (including audio) and make the recording available
to the public.
- When a board member may participate
electronically in a board meeting, the public notice of the meeting
must state that electronic participation in the meeting will be
permitted. The public notice must include instructions by which the
public may electronically access the meeting or include instructions
on how to access the recording of the meeting.
- All votes taken must be by roll call vote.
- A board member who participates electronically is
considered present for the purposes of establishing a quorum and
voting, but a board member who participates in a board meeting
electronically cannot receive the meeting per diem.
This legislation will automatically be repealed on
February 15, 20212. TAUD will be sending out more information
about this legislation once it signed by the Governor and becomes
Coronavirus/COVID-19 Readiness: Sustaining Operations3
Water and wastewater utilities should be prepared to address potential
impacts to their ability to provide service due to personnel
interruptions tied to COVID-19 pandemic. Water and wastewater systems
play a vital role in maintaining the public health of Tennesseans and
should put measures in place to ensure their systems continue to serve
their customers and comply with all environmental and regulatory
requirements. Water and wastewater operators are essential personnel.
Customer service employees who can provide information and answer
questions will continue to be important to the operation of your utility
Public water and wastewater systems are expected to continue to monitor
water quality and provide sample results to regulators during the
COVID-19 pandemic. Preparing to maintain critical operations is a vital
part of continuing to serve the public with potable drinking water and
wastewater services. Your utility may want to consider the following:
- Identify essential employees required to maintain
continuous operation and designate an emergency backup for these
employees in case they cannot report to work.
- Encourage personnel to stay home when they are
sick. Provide work-from-home or sick leave options.
- Discuss backup or alternative shift rotations for
personnel that need to stay home to care for themselves or loved
- Strategize implementation of an ancillary
workforce (e.g. contractors, employees in other job
titles/descriptions, retirees) to operate utilities on emergency
- When using remote access, discuss cyber security
precautions and back-up critical files frequently as a prevention
measure to restore data.
- Encourage customers to avoid paying bills in
person and to consider using alternate payment methods.
- Stay stocked on chemical supplies and order
products ahead of schedule to avoid delays from understaffed
chemical suppliers and other vendors.
- Generate back-up supplier contact list for
essential chemical and operation needs.
- Update/create detailed written instructions for
crucial operations (i.e. shutdown, water quality sampling, public
- Review/update emergency response plan and
contacts. Identify key customers with special needs such as
hospitals and nursing care facilities.
- Consider emergency food and overnight necessities
at 24-hour facilities for personnel working long shifts.
- Limit meetings, gatherings and travel.
Due to an outbreak of COVID-19, other utility systems may
require operational assistance. Your neighboring utility systems are a
great resource for backup coverage in case of emergencies. TAUD may be
able to provide information on other resources when assistance is needed.
2TAUD expects this bill to pass both houses by Friday, March
3Information obtained from Rural Water Association of Utah: https://www.rwau.net/news/coronaviruscovid-19-readiness