Monday, October 16, 2006
Help Me Howard: Water Woes
She's being billed for using more than 77,000 gallons of water in 30 days, but this South Florida woman says someone's got it wrong. So what can she do? Here's tonight's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When it comes to bills there is the electric, the phone, the cable and -- usually the easiest one to pay -- the water bill.
Joanne: "Last month's bill was $35.90, the month before maybe $40."
And then Joanne opened up this month’s water from Broward County.
Joanne: "The bill is $360.90."
The water company said $360 because Joanne used 77,000 gallons of water in one month.
Joanne: "I said, 'That's impossible. There is no way I could use 77,000 gallons, especially if I am gone from 8 until 6 and there's no one here.'"
So she called the friendly folks at the publicly funded utility.
Joanne: "And they said, 'No, that's correct,' that 77,000 gallons went through my meter."
They told her she had a leak somewhere, and if so, it must be one heck of a leak.
Here is why: We turned a hose on and it took 41 seconds to fill up a gallon jug. Meaning it would take 36 days straight for the hose to pour out 77,000 gallons.
In case a faucet was left on, we tested it.
It would take 18 days straight for 77,000 gallons to come pouring out. To put that in prospective, 77,000 gallons is enough water to fill five or six average pools.
Imagine all that pouring into the yard in one month. Joanne must be living in a swamp by now.
Joanne: "I tried to tell him, 'Would I not see water in this house? I mow the grass every week. I know whether there would be sinkholes or something in the yard. The kids are out there.'"
Armed with common sense, Joanne called the water company again, and they checked the meter again.
Joanne: "At that time they told me that it's reading at 99.5% accurate."
Again, she was told pay up. She tried a supervisor.
Joanne: "I said, even if my child stood out in the yard all day long with a hose, it would still not use 77,000 gallons of water. He said, 'You're right.'"
It seems ridiculous. Common sense seems to say there is a mistake here, but Joanne was told, "Too bad, now pay us $360."
Joanne: "It's really not funny at this stage because it's a lot of money. To me it's a lot of money."
Money she doesn't have. What she needs is a way to prove she didn't use the water. So she turned to a fellow who has been known to possess a little common sense.
Howard Finkelstein: "Something is obviously wrong here, but, legally, the county did what they are required to do. They checked the meter. However, the problem may lie elsewhere, and the law then puts the burden on the customer to prove they did not use the water. To be blunt, it's almost impossible to do."
Help Me Howard contacted the Broward Water and Waste Service -- they told us they are confident that 77,000 gallons of water went through Joanne's meter.
They told us she could request an independent test of her meter if she pays $30. But they warned they've had 22 meters tested in the last year and not one has proven to be faulty.
The bottom line: Public utilities are created to serve the public, but getting them to take extra steps for the public is rare.
Howard Finkelstein: "It's possible that the meter is working correctly but it's clear something is wrong. The water department has the resources to figure what happened, but in this case, like others, they chose not to take the extra step."
The county did offer Joanne a payment plan, but, as a single mother, that is not much help.
Joanne: "They're going through a rough time now as it is. To have me more stressed on top of the normal things is hard, too."
Patrick Fraser: "We never claim to have all the answers. If you have any idea what might have happened here let us know."
We are getting a lot of complaints lately about the power company and the water company. The bottom line with public utilities is that they are the only game in town. Complain to politicians, but, in the end, we're all stuck.
Flooded with troubles? Drained from fighting them? Contact us. We'll pour over the law books and stop you from getting soaked.
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