If I Used 200 Gallons Of Water Per Day, I Think I Would Notice

What’s wrong with Arif’s water meter? He and his fiancée use a modest amount of water, but the local water authority claims that the two of them are somehow using 200 gallons per day. If this seems like it should be a straightforward problem to fix…well, you’ve never had to deal with a local water authority.

He seeks advice from readers who have been in a similar situation.

Dear Consumerist and fellow consumers,

I’m writing to get you opinion on a billing issue I’m having with my water authority.

My fiancé and I purchased our first home back in June of 2009. Since the day we received our first water bill, we had been suspicious of the amount of water we were supposedly consuming. Before I start regurgitating numbers, you should be aware that it is just me and my fiancé in the home. We are not home between the hours of 6 am to 5 pm on the weekdays. We have low flow shower heads and low flow faucets, along with water conserving toilets. We don’t take baths and usually stick with quick, 15 min showers. We own a front loading washing machine that we run 2 times a week, and a dishwasher that we run once a week. We don’t water our lawn and we don’t have a pool. Ohh, we also don’t have a leak anywhere in the home!! So keeping this mind, we somehow have been consuming 18K gallons of water a quarter according to our water authority.

The number was always suspicious to me, but I never thought much about it until June of this year when I had begun talking to my neighbors and it was also this quarter that we had taken a 2 week vacation where no one was home. I figured being out for 2 weeks should make a difference in our bill. After all, 18K gallons a quarter is approximately 200 gallons/day. Well you could imagine my surprise when I received my bill in June of this year that we were still billed for 18K gallons.

I politely called the water authority to explain to them my concern. The woman on the other end was incredible nice and said that they could have a technician come out. In-fact they were so nice, when asked “how soon?” she replied “whenever is convenient for you.” I was shocked, a company that actually treats humans as human being!

I scheduled a service at my convenience and the technician arrived at the quoted time (and no they did not quote me a 9-5 time frame). The technicians looked at the meter, removed it and did something to it. He said “yea, this is not working right.” A sigh of relief went through my veins and I patted myself on the back for not being delusional (mentally, not physically). Finally an explanation to the faulty meter!

The technician said that I would need to contact the office to see if a refund was due and what to do from here. I said no problem and he was on his way.

I stopped into the office to talk to them about my water bill. Here is where the tide turned. The supervisor of the water authority was immediately in the defensive, like I was there to take her first born. She accused me initially of trying to cover up a water leak, then manipulating the meter myself, to finally giving me a chance to speak. I explained to her my water usage, and she still did not budge. They remotely read my meter and told me that since my last reading, my new meter had registered me at 1.3K gallons in 7 days. I said this makes absolutely no sense, I told her when I looked at the meter this morning it read “130.” She brought in her manager who reviewed the readings…turns out the supervisor had no idea where the decimal point on the meter was supposed to go!! She offered no apology and went back the water leak theory. I promptly asked her why the technician decided to replace my meter if there was a water leak? Wouldn’t that mean then that the water meter was reading accurately?

Finally, after some going back and forth, the manager agreed that something doesn’t make sense here and that the meter may in-fact be the problem. He said, politely, let’s monitor your consumption for the next quarter and see where we are. He continued by saying that if a credit should be due at the time, they would base it on my reading at the end of the upcoming quarter. I happily agreed and left.

Well I received my new water bill, and I’m happy to say the new bill was for 4K gallons; which made a lot more sense based on our lifestyle.

So today I stopped by their office, and they have now changed their tune. They are telling me that they need to wait for another 2-3 quarters before they issue any type of credit. I felt a gasket go off in my mind, and I said (politely) that I was disappointed and wanted to speak with the manager. Turns out he was not in today and will call me back. So now I’m stuck with paying my next bill which is due Monday the 15th, while they sit and ponder some more, after they told me that they would need a single quarter to made a decision on my credit amount.

So I need your help. What should I do? Should I try to fight back and resist waiting another 2-3 quarters (6 to 9 months)? I noticed that their bill states that a 15% penalty will be imposed on bills that are late; can I impose this 15% on them for holding my money ransom and going against their initial agreement?

Thanks for your help!