Help Me With Water Problem Please

I should not be a home owner which is why I have listed my house recently. I am inept, uneducated and basically clueless regarding how anything works or who to call when it doesn’t.

Now that my disclaimer is over, I need some one out there to tell me what my next step is to solve this problem I have.

My electric and water fees come in one bill. Although I knew my electric would be higher than normal being it is summer and the air conditioning runs longer and harder, I was not expecting the $650.00 bill I received.

In my attempt at trying to decipher it, it turns out it isn’t electric usage at all. It is water. The bill has a little graph which indicates water consumption. Since last year, my water has hovered around “15” (thousand gallons maybe? As I said, clueless). This month it read “85”. This number translated into $200 in water alone.

I called the company and inquired how that is possible and they said they would send someone over to reread the meter and check for leaks. Today I received a form letter stating the meter reading was correct and please pay.

Obviously there is a problem but my problem is I have no idea what it could be or who to call to find it. If there are no leaks, where is this water going? No one came into my house or knocked on the door so where exactly do they check for leaks? I personally did some mindless checking of my own, such as making sure no toilets are running and confirming I have no dripping faucets. Where the heck would all this water be going? I certainly have done nothing different and actually have one less person living there.

What to do friends?

Call a plumber an ask to have the line checked for leaks on your side of the meter. The water co. is only responsible for the line up to the meter - what’s on ‘your’ side is your headache (sorry!).

Good luck!

Just one thing to check; can you tell from previous bills whether the level months were estimates or real meter readings? If they estimated low all along and are now “catching up” with a real read this could cause a disproportionate amount. I am going on the fact that they do this with electric; not sure if it’s the case with water.

Do you know where your water meter is? Don’t know if yours is the same but ours is housed under a little 12 x 16 lid in the front lawn next to the street. It’s also the main cutoff valve. I believe the first thing I’d do is to turn off all the items that potentially use water in your house and yard and check the meter to see if it registers water still being used.

GREAT IDEA. Yes, I can try that.

I had a neighbor many years ago that got hit with a like bill.
The DWP said the meter was accurate. He got out his slide rule (I did say it was many years ago) and showed them that the amount of water they claimed he used would cover his lot to a depth of 15 feet. He took these figures to the Public Utilities Commission and they ordered the bill amended to an amount equal to his previous average bill, and a new meter installed.
So after checking for leaks, a complaint to your PUC (or what ever they have that is similar in your state) might be in order.

If you have a slab-constructed house, you could easily have a leak under the house. You need to find out where the water is going, because fixing it could be more of an issue than the water usage itself. Turn off anything that makes noise and listen very closely.

Do you have an outside spigot? Do your neighbors’ lawns look lushly green and well-watered? Sorry - I’m a suspicious type. :smiley:

Just to get the obvious out of the way – you haven’t been watering the lawn non-stop for the past month, or filling up swimming pools?

Assuming you’re correct and the “85” really means 85,000 gallons/month – well, that’s a shocking amount of water. In fact, 15,000 would be a shocking monthly usage. That’s more than I go through in six months. Doing a bit of math and assuming a flow of five gallons/minute, you’d have to run the hose for 11 straight days to use 85,000 gallons of water. If you had that kind of leakage, I suspect you’d notice it. For one thing, your interior water pressure would be dismal.

I think your first line of attack is to figure out exactly how much water you’re being charged for. (It’s possible that this is a bill for six month’s water usage and that you have been watering the lawn a lot.) Then, unless your house is slipping into a vast pit of mud, to argue that the amount of water you’re being charged for is materially impossible for you to have used in the space of a month.

It is indeed 85 thousand gallons of water and it is for the month of July. The bill shows usage for each month going back a year and they ranged from 7-15K previously.

The swimming pool actually had to be drained once or twice due to all the rain so that wouldn’t be it. Same with the sprinklers. We haven’t had a need. I took the advice of turning off everything and checking the meter and it was NOT moving so I do not have a leak. I can’t really tell if their meter reading is correct because no numbers seems to come close to the five digit number on the bill. To make matters more interesting, when my son pulled up the cover to check the meter for any leaks, there was grass grown into the groves and dirt had to be cleaned off the actually meter for it to be read. This is the same meter that they claim they reread for me August 10th. We ran the sink and the meter started to move so this IS the actual meter.

I have no idea what to do from here. I guess I could look for the public utility commission in my area.

This is beyond annoying. I fear if I don’t pay it, they are going to turn off my electricity and Florida without AC will NOT be fun. However, the extra two hundred dollars is going to take quite the bite out of my budget.

It’s probably the amount in hundreds of cubic feet, the traditional unit for water billing. 1500 cubic feet per month would be about right for a typical small residence.

Would a neighbor be using your hose to fill their wading pool? Probably not, but I thought the remote chance should be mentioned. Have you been watering a garden or your grass? Still, I don’t think even you watering a garden and your yard, combined with a fresh refill of a wading pool often would explain that much water usage. I would check for leaks.

A lot of municipalities use remote-readers, so they may not have actually looked in your box for months, just driven by with the remote.

Here’s a site that will show you how to read the meter manually. Meters do go off now and then and need to be calibrated, and if I’d complained about that, I’d expect an actual eyeball reading.

I am a water provider but we don’t have meters on my system yet, so I’m sorry that I can’t help you more.

Jot down the current reading and give that to them over the phone. If there’s a discrepancy then they need to try reading the meter again.

Is it at all possible that there is another (possibly old/disconnected) meter on your property, and that’s the one the utility company read? If it’s stuck at a higher reading than your actual one, that could certainly explain the difference.

(Note: I don’t even know how these things work, though, so I don’t know if this is possible!)

Would they put you on a payment plan until you get caught up maybe? Did you think to photograph the meter with grass shrouding it?

Here’s a site to help you read a water meter, there are different types and some may be confusing unless your familiar w/ them:
I’d try the water dept. again, if they’re not helpful you can go to your local elected rep., or your public utilities comm.

Around here they don’t turn off the water until your a couple of months behind, I’ve forotten to pay mine several times. If it were me I’d pay the usual amount along w/ a letter saying that you are disputing the overcharge until you get a reasonable explanation. Include the info. that you have checked and found no leaks. I doubt they’ll cut you off w/o several notices beforehand.

I’ve assisted many customers over the years when faced with a similar problem. It is a matter of narrowing down the possibilities.

First, you need to read your meter. In many cases, you will have four or five numbers in black and the next two numbers will be in red. For example, if you see 123456, it would be interpreted as 1234.56 and the final two numbers will be dropped in the billing process so they are billing you for whole units of water, not partial. Units typically are CCF, meaning 100 cubic feet.

If the reading you read today is higher than the last reading of your bill, then their read is correct. If your read is lower, they had a misread and should correct your bill.

Assuming the read is correct, then water went through your meter at some point. You say you shut everything off and the meter stopped. This was a good step for your to take. I would take it a step further and not run any water in your house (to your knowledge) for the whole night. Look at your meter again first thing in the morning and the read should be exactly the same as the night before. If it has changed (gone higher), you have a leak, probably a slow one.

If you find you have a leak, you then have to determine if it is inside your house or outside. To do this, you have to find the shutoff valve to your house. Turn it off. If you continue to have water flow through your meter, the leak is outside (sprinkler systems are prime suspects). Look for particularly lush, green patches in your yard. If the water does not flow through the meter when your shutoff valve is off, the leak is inside the house.

Inside the house, toilets are usually the culprit. Make sure your check ALL the toilets, even the remote basement toilet that people tend to forget. To do a thorough check of toilets, do the dye test. You can get some food coloring and put a few drops in the back tank. Wait about 30 seconds. If any of the colored water seeps forward into the bowl, you have a leak. If not, the toilet is fine.

If everything checks out fine, then it is likely an unusual circumstance such as a toilet, for whatever reason, was running because the flapper didn’t drop. If this is the case, a toilet can lose 250+ gallons per hour. That means in about 3 hours, you would use an entire unit of water!

It is possible that someone decided to hook up to your outside faucet and help themselves. I’ve known of it to occur, and it was regarded as theft.

There have also been times that the meter malfunctioned, but this does not occur very often. When all other possibilities have been eliminated, the meter can be tested for accuracy. This may be free of charge or you may be faced with a gamble. . .if the meter is malfunctioning, the fee is waived; if the meter tests accurate, you may be responsible for the fee.

Regardless what is going on, work with your water utility personnel. They are a wealth of information and your account can be noted and tracked. If this is unusual consumption for you, it is apparent to them as well and they will want to help. If you are not satisfied, keep moving up the chain of command. . .supervisor, manager, director, and ultimately the hearing officer.

The worst thing you can do is not involve them and not pay. Normal credit action would occur, and while you would not be shufoff immediately, there would be nothing to deter their normal delinquency process. If you work with them, a payment arrangement can be made so you pay what you normally would now, and delay the increased portion pending consumption investigation.

Good luck. I hope that I’ve been able to help. I’ll check in periodically to see how it’s going.


I would check that the meter’s serial number matches the serial number they are recording the reading from too. I’ve seen it get mixed up before, and they are reading your neighbor a couple houses down. It’s more likely to happen at a cluster of meter’s though. This is in addition to the other given advice. I was told an electric meter wasn’t bad. It was. Looking at usage over three years The bills used a bit over 40 kw more over each month than one year earlier, for a couple years. The meter got replaced after I was told it wasn’t bad. The usage dropped down to previous levels.

It not really a joke to say the neighbors may steal the water, because they may.