Why such a big water bill?

Village resident questions how his two-person household could have used 114,000 gallons in a month

“It’s a mystery.”

That’s how Oxford Village resident Mike Young characterized his most-recent municipal water bill.

According to the bill, his two-person household on Bay Pointe Dr. in the Oxford Lakes subdivision used 114,000 gallons of water between Aug. 16 and Sept. 16. For that, he was charged $451.44, plus $199.50 for an equal amount of sanitary sewage usage.

Village water customers are charged $3.96 for every 1,000 gallons of water they use and $1.75 for every 1,000 gallons of sewage they produce. This doesn’t include the monthly base rates they pay regardless of usage.

To put the volume of water that Young was charged for in perspective, the village’s elevated storage tank on S. Glaspie St. is capable of holding 500,000 gallons. He was basically billed for consuming more than a fifth of that amount.

“I don’t know who uses that much water in a month,” he said.

Young pointed out that he and his wife were in South Carolina for a week (Aug. 16 to 23) during that billing period. “So, it’s really only three weeks worth of water,” he said.

Initially, Young thought the bill was a mistake, that maybe the village had simply added too many zeros to the gallons used.

He went to the municipal office on Oct. 3 to inquire about it. There, Young said he was told the bill itself was accurate.

According to village Clerk/Treasurer Teresa Onica, after the village’s 1,363 water meters are read mid-month, any readings showing “abnormal usage” are verified for accuracy by the Department of Public Works (DPW) and if there are any problems, corrections are made prior to mailing the bills.

“We do everything we can on our end . . . We don’t just ignore it. We troubleshoot it the best we can and then, people have to come in,” she said.

In Young’s case, the reading was found to be accurate. He was told to check for problems on his end.

“Sometimes it comes down to a resident having a leak,” Onica said.

She indicated there are “rare occasions” when meters need to be replaced, “but it is a very small percentage.”

According to Onica, “when residents come in with complaints, 95 percent are resolved by the resident” when the village instructs them to do the following:

• Turn off all the water in the house and see if the meter dial is moving.

• Put blue dye in the back of toilet tanks and see if the water in the bowls changes color without flushing. It there’s no issue, the water should remain clear.

• Take a photograph of the meter reading, then wait four to five hours and snap another photo to see if it changed when no water was being used.

• Check underground irrigation systems. If water usage goes “way up” during sprinkler season (summer months) and “way down” during the off-season, “chances are there is a leak” somewhere in the system.

“If somebody has a leak, it may not be their fault, but it’s not our fault, either,” Onica said. “We still have to send out the bills.”

“People pay for leaks all the time,” Onica continued, that’s why it’s important to check for them and fix them.

“(A large bill) could be (because) you’re using more water, but it could be something else,” she said.

“In the prior month, (Young) didn’t have that much usage, so something’s going on over there and he’s got to figure it out,” Onica noted.

The village supplied this reporter with Young’s billing history, and according to it, his household used, in the three previous months, 44,000 gallons, 34,000 gallons and 16,000 gallons. None of these amounts are even close to 114,000 gallons.

“There’s something going on there. I just don’t know what it is,” Onica said.

Young indicated he checked his house and found when there’s no water running, his meter’s dial does not move, which is as it should be. He said there are no running toilets and while the supply line to his underground irrigation system is still open, that can’t be where the problem is because the dial is not moving.

“If (I) had a broken pipe, it would just be spilling out of there,” he said. “If there’s a leak, (the dial) should be spinning.”

“I really don’t understand what’s happening,” Young noted.

Young has a hard time believing that if he has a leak, it was enough to result in a bill for 114,000 gallons. “Even if your hose ran all night, which I’ve done (in the past) to fill my (22,000-gallon) pool up, it still (doesn’t) come up to (anything) near that amount,” he said. “You should be able to run your sprinkler system for days on end and still not get to that.”

Onica disagreed. “You’d be surprised how much water can leak in a short period of time. We’ve seen it,” she said.

Onica indicated the village hall had a leak that wasn’t discovered until the facility’s water bill shot up to “several hundred dollars.”

“It can be costly,” she said.

When asked if Young could have a faulty meter, DPW Superintendent Don Brantley said mechanical meters “typically, don’t jump forward like that.”

But, there are exceptions.

“We had one meter that jumped like a million gallons in a month,” said Brantley, so the village knew it wasn’t functioning correctly because that amount is the equivalent of filling the municipal storage tank twice.

“We did end up (replacing) that meter,” he said.

Despite that, Brantley indicated it’s “unlikely” a mechanical meter would start showing readings higher than the actual water usage. “Mechanical meters, if anything, will slow down over time,” he explained, meaning the readings they provide will be less than the actual usage.

“The standard is every 20 or 25 years, you should change your meters,” Brantley said. “You lose a percentage after like 20 years. You’ll lose like 2 percent . . . They’ll get calcified. They’re not as efficient as they used to be.”

On Monday, Young told this reporter somebody from the DPW is going to come to his house and check his indoor meter.

“They are being helpful,” he wrote in a text message.

Whatever ends up being the cause of Young’s situation, Onica advises folks to keep a close eye on their water bills and usage.

“It is a good reminder and a good lesson for (people) to troubleshoot (potential problems) and pay attention because you don’t want to wait till you have a problem like that – $700 is a lot of money coming out of your wallet in a month,” she said.

 

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