Steven L. Abrams
Mary Lou Berger
"An equal opportunity
Water Utilities Department Responds to High Water Bill Inquiries
For immediate release: July 10, 2008
Many Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department (WUD) customers have viewed the recent news stories on television regarding high water bills and requested inquiries into their own accounts. As a long term provider of the highest quality water, the department continuously strives to ensure that billings are 100 percent accurate and customer concerns are taken very seriously. Based on customers’ current concerns, a thorough analysis of each customer’s specific situation has been conducted. Provided below are the results of their inquiries.
From July 1 to today at 3 p.m., over 8,213 calls have been received. From the calls already thoroughly investigated the following has been determined.
A thorough auditing of all aspects of the customer's billing, including:
- reviewing past account water usage history,
- rereading meters,
- spot checking accuracy of meter (calibration check), and
- reviewing how the bill was calculated.
Utilizing all this data, the department has found the following:
- no inconsistencies,
- no misread meters,
- no billing errors.
In a few instances, leaks were located, and customers were advised of how to remedy those issues.
To reiterate, here is an explanation of why water bill costs may be higher than expected.
There are a number of contributing factors to explain the June bills being higher than might be expected. These include higher system-wide usage due to the first prolonged dry period without severe water restrictions in over a year, the impacts of the May 2007 rate increase and the May 2008 rate surcharge which until this time period had never been fully felt by many customers due to wet weather or water restrictions, all this exacerbated by the timing of estimated reads for about half of the customers in May.
The issues involved in the investigation are listed below:
ISSUE #1: Did the customers use the amount of water that was billed?
RESPONSE: Water meters are very accurate and reliable devices. WUD replaces residential meters every seven years to insure accuracy. Meters that are in need of replacement read low (i.e. water bill would cost less), so that would not cause high bills. Follow up investigations at each concerned residence confirmed the accuracy of the initial reading (average of 99.6 percent) and did not find leaks at the meter. There can be no conclusion except that the usage for these customers was accurately charged.
ISSUE #2: Was the amount of water usage billed in June unusual for any of the customers?
RESPONSE: Other than those customers who had leaks, a review of customer usage histories confirmed that similar usage amounts were demonstrated several times since 2006. In fact, a similar water usage range for these customers has occurred from three to eight times in the past two years. Another reason for some high bills was that the customers had significant past due balances from previously unpaid bills in addition to their June bill, thereby skewing the water bill.
ISSUE #3: Why do the June bills of so many customers appear high?
RESPONSE: There are several reasons for the higher bills in June:
- From the beginning of April until the end of May was the hottest and driest two-month period since last spring. Above is a rainfall record at Water Plant #2, the closest facility to the area of concern, demonstrating the very low rainfall for April and May 2008. During this period, usage was much higher for residential users utility-wide, and was the highest for any two-month period since May 2007.
- Immediately following the rate increase in May 2007 customers have either been under severe water restrictions or the weather has been wet. Average residential usage system-wide has been down for over a year. In May 2008 a rate surcharge went into effect. The June billing period represents the first period in over a year that has been both dry and with reduced water restrictions, resulting in the first time many of our customers have really felt the impact of the rate increases.
- WUD sends bills monthly but reads meters every other month. In non-read months the bills are estimated based on an average of actual reads for the past year. The entire estimate period this past year has been either wet weather or subject to severe water use restrictions, which were only eased in April of this year, reflecting low usage. It appears that the estimated May bills for many customers were much lower than their actual water usage, so June bills reflected the difference, exacerbating the perception of a high bill.
The Water Utilities Department regrets the inconvenience this convergence of events has caused customers and stands ready to review and discuss each individual situation with them. The beginning of the rainy season and increased awareness of the importance of conservation among those affected customers should help reduce their bills to more manageable levels in the future.