It was the second time this week NBC 7 Responds heard from water customers, uniting to try and figure out why their bills show such high use compared to months in the past.
Over 50 Del Cerro neighbors met Thursday night to talk about one problem they are all facing: high water bills.
“We had three people with more than 10-times their normal water bills,” a gentleman told the crowd.
Water Customers pointed out the problems they have are not just the high cost of the water bills but a dramatic increase in actual water usage reflected in a two-month billing period.
NBC 7 Responds has been looking into city customers’ complaints with water bills for months. This past Monday, a group of La Jollans met to discuss the same problem residents in Del Cerro said they are experiencing.
The Del Cerro community came together to meet with staff from the city of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department, who addressed the crowd.
“This is a systemic problem,” one homeowner told Public Utilities Department Deputy Director Mike Vogl as he spoke.
Most of the homeowners who attended the Del Cerro meeting said they experienced a one-time spike in usage on their water bill they don’t understand. But they are paying the price, in some instances bills of nearly $1000 that normally run $200-300.
“There’s definitely an uptick in customer concerns right now, related to water bills,” Vogl told NBC 7 Responds, “we’re going to look at each and every individual case.”
Vogl said the Public Utilities Department is investigating customer complaints but doesn’t believe there is a system-wide problem.
“I don’t think there is necessarily a widespread issue that is the cause for these concerns,” Vogl said.
Vogl told the Del Cero audience two things could be behind the high water bills. The first being a recent billing period extension in the November and December 2017 bill, where the billing days increased from the average 55-65 days to 70 days. The second being a water rate increase that went into effect August 2017.
Some homeowners pointed out those reasons couldn’t apply to them because their water bill spikes occurred prior to the August rate increase and did not occur in the extended billing period in November and December.
Another question customers had was whether or not the city’s new AMI smart water meter implementation had anything to do with their increase, given the spikes occurred after or during a billing period where their water meter was replaced.
Vogl said it was just a coincidence. “We do meter replacements all the time, meter replacements have happened for years and we’ve seen those same type of coincidences,” he said.
NBC 7 Responds created a tool to check if your water meter was repaired or replaced. To try it out, click here.
After analyzing Public Utilities Department data on meter tests performed in the past five years, NBC 7 Responds found homeowners requested more meter tests in 2017 than in past years.
In 2017, out of 141 meter or “controversy tests”, 91 passed the city’s tests and were ruled as working properly. 38 meter failed tests performed and 12 test results did not have a grade indicated in the data released.
“We’ve seen no indication that there’s a problem with the meter themselves,” Vogl told NBC 7 Responds Thursday night.
Still, the high water bills have residents upset, who feel they were forced to pay their high bills in order to avoid their water being turned off.
“You’ve already got my money and I want it back,” a homeowner told Vogl.
The Public Utilities Department said they have a free water use survey program where city staff will come out to your home and look for leaks or provide conservation tips. In addition to this, the city can offer a one-time “exceptionally high consumption” credit to some bills, depending on the homeowner’s situation.
There are also programs that can help low-income homeowners with payments. To read more about the programs offered, click here.