For months, NBC 7 Responds and city customers have been challenging high water bills, looking for answers in what appears to be unexplained high usage.
The city of San Diego’s water department, the Public Utilities Department, has said there are no widespread system issues or underlying causes for every customer’s concern. Nevertheless, the city has told NBC 7 Responds they are committed to addressing every single complaint.
On Thursday, Marilyn Jenkins, a Liberty Station homeowner, was invited to come down to the water department for a one-on-one conversation about her past and current water use.
From May to July, the city said she had used over 26,000 gallons or 35 HCF of water, totaling over $300.
“I go to the YMCA five days a week and I don’t even shower here,” Marilyn said, “I mean I just use very little water.”
Marilyn was one of the first city customers to reach out to NBC 7 Responds last October after the city told her she needed to pay a water bill she received in July. Marilyn normally uses around 5 HCF or over 3,700 gallons of water every two months.
“It was not my usage, there’s no way,” Marilyn said.
Nearly six months after she got the high bill, Marilyn met with the Public Utilities Department’s Deputy Director Mike Vogl and other water officials. A representative from Councilmember Lorie Zapf’s office also attended the meeting to support Marilyn.
“My problem is with the smart meter, it wasn’t connected,” Marilyn told Vogl at the meeting.
According to meter replacement data reviewed by NBC 7 Responds, Marilyn’s meter was replaced during the billing period she experienced a usage increase. At Thursday’s meeting, Vogl said the new meter had nothing to do the spike.
“Marilyn's case is a great example because we can absolutely see that the increase in usage being recorded was on the first meter, the original meter,” Vogl told NBC 7 Responds.
In Marilyn’s case, the city told her she received a one-time high consumption credit because they couldn’t determine how the extra amount of water was used.
“We know that the water went through the meter and we understand Marilyn doesn't know where that water went on her side of the meter,” Vogl said, “And that's a tough one because we can't answer that question.”
The Public Utilities Department told NBC 7 Responds Marilyn’s case is one of 107 complaints where officials will take a closer look and if needed, will meet with the customers to go over their situation.
Complaints like Marilyn’s have led to City Councilmember Barbara Bry to request the city auditor expand an audit already planned for this year to look at the Public Utilities Department’s billing practices.
Vogl said his team welcomes the inspection.
“The audit process is there to identify areas where we could improve and I hope that we get some good recommendations from that,” Vogl said, “It also helps our customers with regards to the confidence that we're doing what we should be doing.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Marilyn found her smart meter is one of 15,000 that have actually been turned on across the city, meaning her hourly water use is being recorded and available for her to see online.
In addition to tracking usage, Vogl told Marilyn she can also set up alerts in case her meter detects an unusual amount of water usage, something Marilyn said she plans to set up right away. Vogl said that’s one of the main reasons the city decided to implement the smart meter program or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
“Our smart meters and the data we get from them will help customers actually see where that water went, when they used it, and hopefully with that information they will be able to determine what happened,” Vogl said.
Has your water meter been replaced with a new smart meter? NBC 7 Responds developed a tool for you to find out, click here to try it out.
Marilyn said she appreciated the meeting water officials held with her but she plans to keep a closer eye on her water bills in the months to come.
“I’m very happy now because my bill went back to normal,” Marilyn said, “If it stays that way, I’m a happy camper but if it goes up, I have to make more noise.”