S&WB Carrollton (copy)

Advocate photo by Matthew Hinton -- The Sewerage & Water Board's Carrollton water treatment plant.

The New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board could begin shutting off water to about 17,000 customers as early as Aug. 1.

The customers, whom the agency considers to be delinquent on their payments, then would have no recourse other than paying the amount owed.

More than 12 percent of S&WB’s customers have met the criteria to have their water shut off and will need to either settle up or dispute their bill in the next two weeks, according to S&WB officials.

The S&WB, which suspended water shutoffs last fall as the number of disputed bills skyrocketed, announced Thursday it would once again start cutting off water to customers it considers in arrears. However, it was not clear at the time exactly how the process would proceed.

Spokeswoman D’Seante Parks said Friday that letters will go out this week warning those customers to pay or have their service shut off.

Any account with a balance of more than $50 that hasn’t been paid in 60 days is considered delinquent, Parks said.

Customers getting letters will have 10 days to either pay the bill or formally dispute the amount, she said. Otherwise, their water will be shut off.

The utility will not cut off water to those who are disputing their bills.

The only option for customers who cannot immediately pay their full past-due balance is a payment plan offered by the S&WB. Under that plan, 25 percent of the customer’s balance is due immediately, with the rest to be paid in installments over the subsequent nine months.

The S&WB’s decision to resume suspending water service has been met with concern by critics who worry about the impact on those of limited means whose homes may become uninhabitable once the water is cut off.

S&WB officials have blamed the large number of overdue bills on the decision in November to suspend the policy of shutting off water to delinquent customers. The policy was suspended as the number of disputed bills mounted as thousands of customers received inflated or duplicate bills.

Officials blamed the billing problems on a shortage of employees and inadequate training on a billing system that was installed in late 2016.

More than 7,000 customers’ bills are still in dispute, according to the S&WB.

The S&WB also has announced plans to form a “strike team” to resolve the still-disputed bills. Parks said the team will be made up of S&WB employees who are considered to be “the best people in the billing department.”

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​