12 On Your Side: What to do if you get an unusually high water bill

By: Hope Jensen Email
By: Hope Jensen Email

Update: News 12 at 11 o'clock/ Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012

AUGUSTA,Ga -- Augusta Utilities went to her home on Friday morning and found her meter is electronic. That means someone can read it even when it's buried under dirt and leaves.

The plumber say's he's glad the utility department got to the bottom of it. He also says this is a good lesson for all customers to check what kind of meter they have. A covered meter doesn't mean your reading is incorrect.

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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Have you taken a look at your water meter lately?

High water bills caused one single mother to call out a plumber, but the plumber said nothing is wrong. When he went to check her meter, it was covered in mud, dirt and leaves and he says he sees this all the time.

News 12 saw the same thing in 2010. After an investigation, we found city employees "guesstimating" meter readings for broken meters so we wanted to make sure this wasn't happening again.

Shannon Wingo is a 23-year-old single mother to her 20-month-old son. She was in shock when she opened her February water bill.

"Oh my God," she said. "This is an extreme water bill, that's what I thought."

So she called a plumber. Michael Jordan with Mr. Rooter's Plumbing has been in the business for over 25 years. He said her water bills were extremely high.

"For a single parent living in a house with one bathroom, normal water bill here in the city of Augusta [is] on, but on average, between $19 to $33 a month," he said.

Wingo's bill showed she and her son used more than 43,000 gallons of water in a month. She said that's not possible.

"It's just me and him here so I couldn't be using that much," Wingo said.

Upon closer inspection, the bill shows the meter readings from December. Wingo admits she had a leak but it was fixed around Christmas time. She wasn't expecting it to show up on her February bill.

Augusta Utilities Assistant Director of Finance and Billing Steve Little says that is because of the billing cycle.

"The process takes about 30 days or more to get from the day the gentleman or lady reads that meter the first time until it actually gets billed and in the mail an to your door," he said.

This can cause a lot of problems if you have a leak.

"You could have hundreds of thousands of gallons in a month that could go undetected and nobody would ever know," Little said.

Most people don't find out about a leak until their water bill arrives.

"The minute I got a high bill, I would call and ask about it and ask, see if it's been reread and ask to be reread," Little said. "Because if you've got a leak, you may already have 30 days of water running somewhere."

In this case, Wingo says her water bill started going up after a water main break in her neighborhood.

"Ever since that incident, that's when my water bill started to go up," she said.

Little says it is possible a water main break can cause problems for houses nearby.

"When they turn it back on, there's a surge of water and if you've got like an old plumbing system then that can kind like rattle the pipes," he said. "It can jar them enough that it can force things to start leaking."

No matter the cause, Little says they will reimburse her for the high bills.

"We don't want people to pay for water that they're not using."

But that's not the only problem her plumber came across today.

"From pulling this up today, being under 3 and a half inches of dirt, this meter has not been physically read in at least four months from the amount of soot, leaves, dirt and buildup that's been on top of this meter," Jordan said.

The city says it's because it's an electronic meter. The plumber says it doesn't look like one. But city commissioners say it doesn't matter. It needs to be fixed.

"We need to find a more strategic plan because even in that we don't know where we have meters buried you know and things of that nature and that's a problem," said Commissioner Corey Johnson.

The city says they want to figure out exactly what is going on as well. They are planning to head over there Friday and check things out.

Meanwhile, they want to remind everyone that as soon as you see an irregular water bill, call them to come out and take a look. If you can find a leak quickly it won't cause months of high bills.


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