Woman Receives $16,000 Water Bill

Escondido resident usually pays $115 a month, was charged nearly 150 times the normal rate

An Escondido woman was shocked to receive her water bill, saying she owed $16,000 for roughly a month’s worth of service.

Margaret Kreusser tells NBC 7 that she usually uses around 150 gallons of water a day, which is pretty standard for a single woman. But the Escondido Utility Billing Department said her water rate jumped to more than 87,000 gallons a day and told her she needed to pay up.

“It’s just a worry, constant worry,” said Kreusser.

The Escondido woman usually pays about $115 a month, so when she received the $16,000 charge for water between the month of Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013, she was astonished.

A local water expert agrees with Kreusser.

“It’s absolutely preposterous,” said George Newman, a water works expert working with the consumer group UCAN.

The utility company said Kreusser must have had a leak on her property that averaged more than 87,000 gallons of water a day.

That amount of water breaks down to more than 3,000 gallons an hour, 60 gallons a minute and one gallon a second. It’s essentially like dumping out three swimming pools onto Kreusser’s property every day.

According to Kreusser, city workers initially said the water probably seeped into the ground or ran into a nearby creek, but Kreusser said she hasn't seen any evidence of that happening.

Newman said a leak like that would be obvious to everyone.

“That would blast out of the ground like you wouldn't believe,” he said. “It might go 75, 80 feet high. There would be a sinkhole there you could put half a dozen busses in.”

Newman said there is absolutely no way one person could have used that kind of water. Kreusser was told by utility officials that her meter was spinning wildly but Newman is convinced the meter must have broken.

“Instead of the meter clicking in where it should, it keeps rolling over and counting up the water it never saw,” he said.

The city has since replaced the meter, and Kreusser has added new water pipes. Her water rate is back to normal, but the city said she still owes the $16,000. So she’s suing the city for more than $300,000.

The director at the Escondido Utility Billing Department said since this case is going to court, they cannot comment on the situation.

Kreusser said they did offer to lower her water bill to just $8,000 – but she said no.

The city has to respond to Kreusser's lawsuit by the middle of next month.

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