Six weeks after an expert pointed out to NBC 7 Responds “inadequacies” in how the city of San Diego tests customer water meters, the Public Utilities Department unveiled its new, state-of-the-art water meter testing system to help ensure the accuracy of their customers’ water bills.
“We are moving into the 21st century,” Water Systems District Manager Johnny Mitchell said while operating a meter test.
“Controversy tests” or tests that measure water meter accuracy, are often the last option for city homeowners arguing they did not use the water they are being charged for.
Mitchell said the city had been planning to buy the new “MARS M3 Water Meter Test Bench” since 2014 but the purchase, totaling approximately $400,000, wasn’t finalized until late last year.
“It was here, it just had not been set up, so we made the choice because of this certainly, let's just go ahead and put this in now,” said Tom Howard. “It supports us and more importantly, the customers to make sure there's confidence in what we are doing with the testing of these water meters.”
Howard says the new automated system will largely remove any potential for human error. Instead of workers manually controlling the flow of water during the testing process, the new system controls the flow automatically.
“[The old system] relied totally on the human being,” says Howard. “If you’re taller or shorter you may read that slightly different, on [the new system] you don’t have to worry about it.”
NBC 7 Responds has been investigating high water bills since last July after a Pacific Beach homeowner told us her bill shot up by more than five times over the course of one month. Since then dozens of homeowners have called NBC 7 Responds with their own stories of high water bills.
Those complaints prompted NBC 7 Responds to look at the city’s process of testing water meters. Tom Kelly, who sits on the Testing Standards Committee for the American Water Works Association, found the city’s testing system was “borderline obsolete” and water meter test results were incomplete.
Howard explained testing results for each water meter test will now automatically be archived by the test bench system. For each test, rather than workers having to manually control the flow of water, the new system does this automatically.
In addition to customer requests to test water meters, the city also tests water meters that have been in-use for an extended amount of time.
While an audit is underway looking into billing complaints, the Public Utilities Department has waived the 66 dollar testing fee for customers who want their meters tested.
Customers who believe their water meter isn't working properly should call the city water department at 619-515-3525.