Is Your Water Meter Crazy?

Elliot writes in what he dubs, “A Water Meter Odyssey” After hearing what he went through to not get overcharged on his water bill, fighting harpies, cyclops and hydra will sound like Mother Goose rhyme.

Even though he only had moderate usage, the water meter showed 265 gallons a day. Repeated meter replacements and entreaties to the water company were of no avail.

So Elliot switched to using a measured 5 gallon bucket of water every day for kitchen and bath sink and tub. For six months. The water meter eventually declined… to 11 gallons a day.

At the end of six months, he showed the water company the irrefutable proof that their meter was off. They agreed to repay him for several years worth of overcharging.

And now, without explanation, all billing has ceased. His water flows freely. Elliot writes:

    “There are still, what… perhaps 3 million or so NYC building owners who possibly are being gouged by their own city government. Checking water meter accuracy is an extremely difficult task for owners, because it takes a, determined person and a separate measuring system which should be maintained at least for 6 months.

    I would urge anyone with the right situation, or maybe consumer groups with an empty house at their disposal to run the same test.

    It would be worthwhile to see how widespread the practice of over-billing water use really is.”

Elliot’s full letter, inside.


Elliot writes:

    “When my ex-wife finally abandoned my 2 family house (she had exclusive possession) it was about the time NYC was beginning to bill water use, with meter readings every three months. Though the house had been used little as in the months my ex was in the process of moving, (no tenants) the water bill showed water use was at 165 gallons a day. The unusually high numbers continued in the following months as tenants were obtained, then it went stratospheric. A complaint was made and the water meter replaced, but the numbers remained unusually high. Nagging at me, and hoping for a time and means of checking water meter accuracy, and in order not to validate what seemed to be a fraud, none of the water bills were paid.

    Several years later I had the opportunity to reside in the 1st floor apartment. A single professional fellow was the only tenant. Minding my water use, there was no watering the lawn or washing the car, yet on several billing cycles the water bill went ballistic – to 265 gallons a day. When the tenant finally moved, it was realized that the only way to check actual usage was to decant bath, bathroom sink and kitchen sink water to 5 gallon pails and using that water to flush the commode. As the system was being implemented, the heat went out during a cold snap, freezing and cracking the meter, and it was promptly replaced. Certainly my hope was that the new meter would be accurate.

    For me, carefully minding the flow, a quick shower can take only about 5 gallons and, for consistency, they were kept to three a week. Bathroom and kitchen sink tasks were done at a bare minimum trickle. In all, with a number of other water saving techniques, average daily use was pared down to an average of one 5 gallon pail a day. The pattern had to be maintained for at least six months to bridge one, preferably several complete billing cycles. Water meter usage showed a fairly steady decline, finally leveling off at about 11 gallons per day. When finally doing the math, it showed the water meter was billing for about 62% more water than was being used. But even that might be low, because, there were days, weekends, periods of time I was not home. It would further take a log of those days, and to factor that into account to further refine the percent of overcharge. My unofficial figure on the overcharge is closer to 70%.

    After a bit of wrangling, the department saw the light and rescinded all several years of water bills, but the questions remained, what about future billing? A few letters later, without explanation, all billing had ceased and none has been received for about the past year.

    Though pleased that my situation has been addressed, but leaving me in limbo without a forthcoming policy, there are still, what… perhaps 3 million or so NYC building owners who possibly are being gouged by their own city government. What about nationwide? Checking water meter accuracy is an extremely difficult task for owners, because it takes the opportunity of one single, determined person and a separate measuring system which should be maintained at least for 6 months.

    I would urge anyone with the right situation, or maybe consumer groups with an empty house at their disposal to run the same test. It would be worthwhile to see how widespread the practice of over-billing water use really is.

    -Elliot”

Comments

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  1. GenXCub says:

    My only question is how the proof was delivered. Was it just the dramatic drop in water usage after the meter was changed that convinced them? Do you think other water companies would require more than that?

  2. RumorsDaily says:

    I’m unclear at how the bathroom stuff worked. It seems awful.

  3. Anonymously says:

    If you pour enough water into the commode, it’ll flush.

    I wonder if I’m being overcharged for water. Last month the bill came to 6700 gallons. There are 3 people here, the showers use 2 gallons per minute.

  4. FLConsumer says:

    The worst are the submetering companies for apartments. They have no accountability, there’s nothing you can do about them, and they don’t care about the individuals being billed.

    Before I bought my house, I rented at an apartment complex where they submetered (and billed us individually) for water usage. There was a water meter present, BUT the prices charged for water were astronomical. This apartment was a flop-house for me in a city I travel to frequently on business and was far cheaper than getting hotel rooms, so I wasn’t there all that often. Initially the water bills were $4-5/month which seemed quite reasonable for the 4-10 days I’d be in town. Then the bills jumped to $45/month. The submetering company began estimating my bill because they said no one could possibly use that little amount of water. Took pictures of the meter inside & meter outside to prove they were both working properly, and the bills went back down to the %4-5/month I was used to. During the last year of having the place, the apartment complex kept jacking the price of water up…to the point where I was paying $45-75/month for water, WELL above the market price for water. The public service commission said that wasn’t legal…BUT the city would be the ones to enforce it. The city said they can’t do anything, it was the PSC’s problem… FL law said any agency could do anything about it… but forget trying to get any of them to handle it.

  5. Triteon says:

    It’s unfortunate that it took measures this extreme to get the problem rectified, but Elliot– BRAVO! Now if only we poor, AmerenIP users (victims) could do the same thing with our electrical usage…

  6. Tonguetied says:

    You could just pour the water into the toilet and that would cause it to flush but I think the best bet would be to take the lid off the back and fill up the tank from the bucket.

  7. Elliot says:

    GenXCub, The proof was the water meter bills themselves together with a complete graph beginning when NYC began separate billing for water use. (Before that it was included in the city property tax.) The graph included bars for each billing period, the exact amount in gallons, and along the time line, bars showing when the house had tenants, none, one or two. I did it using a CAD (drafting drawing program) program, so the lines for use were exact. That was included with a full explanation of the graph and process. And by the way, 6 months would be a minimum time period, but to drive home the fact that is was not an anomaly, it was continued for well more than a year.
    Ingen Angiven, a 5 gallon pail is enough to flush the commode two to three times a day.
    Greg P, 6.700 gallons is a HUGE amount. I would certainly look into it. Unfortunately, having a family increases the problem of proving a bad meter. Take care of any leaks; see what effect; then complain; they may replace your meter; wait to see the effect; if none, or minimal, your only choice is to do what I have done. See if your wife and child can stay with a relative; use a large dishpan in the kitchen sink and an appropriately sized pan or bowl for your bathroom sink; get a “drill-pump” from your hardware store to pump the water from your bath tub – and a t least a couple of 5 gal pails. Consistency is paramount.

    . The NYC bills are not in gallons but cubic feet of water; 100 cu ft of water is equivalent to 748 gallons. Down at the bottom they do say your daily use was X gallons per day, but double check their math.
    Several things: make sure there are no leaking faucets or commodes; even what seems to be an inconsequential drip can be several gallons a day; a number of those, can easily add 10+ gal/day; drips take no holiday – they are 24/7. Upon complaint , as in my case, the water dept. may send an “inspector”. They drop a die tablet into the commode tank and see if a trickle of die appears in the bowl. ANY amount, no matter how small or how long it takes for the die to reach the bowl, the response is, “Ah..! THERE. See? There’s YOUR problem…”. Still, make sure there are no drips or leaks; if you can, time any change at the beginning a billing cycle; any change midway in a billing cycle will show a proportional, not the full effect; you still have to wait through one full new billing cycle to see the full effect. In my case, through three water meters, the changes showed no affect, but with tenants, it would be hard to tell, because their water use varies. Because of no noticeable variation, my take on it is that the overcharge is systemic, and they know about it, otherwise there wouldn’t be such an emphasis on trying to make you believe it is your problem.

    Love and Peace, Elliot

  8. Elliot says:

    GenXCub, The proof was the water meter bills themselves together with a complete graph beginning when NYC began separate billing for water use. (Before that it was included in the city property tax.) The graph included bars for each billing period, the exact amount in gallons, and along the time line, bars showing when the house had no tenants, one or two. It was done using a CAD (drafting drawing program) program, so the lines for use were exact. That was included with a full explanation of the graph and process. And by the way, 6 months would be a minimum time period, but to drive home the fact that is was not an anomaly, it was continued for well more than a year.
    Ingen Angiven, a 5 gallon pail is enough to flush the commode two to three times a day.
    Greg P, 6.700 gallons is a HUGE amount. I would certainly look into it. Unfortunately, having a family increases the problem of proving a bad meter. Take care of any leaks; see what effect; then complain; they may replace your meter; wait to see the effect; if none, or minimal, your only choice is to do what I have done. See if your wife and child can stay with a relative; use a large dishpan in the kitchen sink and an appropriately sized pan or bowl for your bathroom sink; get a “drill-pump” from your hardware store to pump the water from your bath tub – and a t least a couple of 5 gal pails. Consistency is paramount.

    . The NYC bills are not in gallons but cubic feet of water; 100 cu ft of water is equivalent to 748 gallons. Down at the bottom they do say your daily use was X gallons per day, but double check their math.
    Several things: make sure there are no leaking faucets or commodes; even what seems to be an inconsequential drip can be several gallons a day; a number of those, can easily add 10+ gal/day; drips take no holiday – they are 24/7. Upon complaint , as in my case, the water dept. may send an “inspector”. They drop a die tablet into the commode tank and see if a trickle of die appears in the bowl. ANY amount, no matter how small or how long it takes for the die to reach the bowl, the response is, “Ah..! THERE. See? There’s YOUR problem…”. Still, make sure there are no drips or leaks; if you can, time any change at the beginning a billing cycle; any change midway in a billing cycle will show a proportional, not the full effect; you still have to wait through one full new billing cycle to see the full effect. In my case, through three water meters, the changes showed no affect, but with tenants, it would be hard to tell, because their water use varies. Because of no noticeable variation, my take on it is that the overcharge is systemic, and they know about it, otherwise there wouldn’t be such an emphasis on trying to make you believe it is your problem.

    Love and Peace, Elliot