HOUSTON – Our KPRC 2 Investigates team has heard your complaints about your City of Houston water bills. These concerns include everything, from excessive water bills to outrageous and irregular meter readings. Customers are feeling “drained” and frustrated that there is no apparent recourse, and many are finding it hard to get answers from the city. It’s why all this week, the KPRC 2 Investigates team is taking a hard look at these issues and pushing city leaders for solutions.
Fluctuating water bills
From frequent checks of the water meter at his family’s West Houston home to routine inspections of his fluctuating water bills Andrew Chesney has tried for months to make his bills make sense.
“Something fundamentally has gone wrong,” said Chesney. “Just randomly paying bills with no explanation just doesn’t sit right with me.”
With just one baby and his wife, Chesney said his family’s water usage should be fairly consistent. But his monthly water bills have bounced up and down from $43 one month then $550 the next. And $389 in June and $139 another month. Chesney paid these bills in full. Then in September, an unexplained adjustment to his bill added $1,169.
“Makes it impossible, to be honest. These large swings in bills from one month to the next, you just can’t budget,” he said.
Repeated phone calls with questions to the water department went unanswered and then Chesney discovered the numbers on his meter weren’t even moving. His August and September bills show the meter reading at $1,001. And on Oct. 13 it was still at the same read. The water department said he had an open work order to replace or repair the problem, but when?
“The ownership is just not there,” said Chesney.
“No one is taking responsibility,” Amy said.
“Nobody at all,” he said.
After weeks of back and forth, the Houston Water Department told us it had estimated Chesney’s bills for three months. And then in March, the city didn’t even generate a bill. When the city did an actual read, they discovered he had used more water than what they estimated. That’s why Chesney owed an extra $1100.
“It’s almost like going to the grocery store today, paying for your goods and then on your next visit, you get told that you owe x, y and z from previous visits,” he said.
Why do some water bills fluctuate in prices so much?
“If I can’t count on the water department to send me a bill for what I actually owe, within a month or two months or three months. How can I budget?” Amy Davis asks Carol Haddock the Director of Houston’s Public Works Department.
“That’s a very reasonable question,” said Haddock.
Haddock said the reason for so many estimated reads are the devices on the meters that send your reading from the meter to the city. They’re old and outdated.
“We have infrastructure, that’s, that’s at the end of its life. And we’re seeing that we’re not getting reads as regularly as we could,” she said.
City of Houston water meters are not always sending accurate readings
Haddock says with the old transmitters on water meters, the water department is only receiving accurate reads for about 60% of all residential meters in Houston each month. The city is already working to replace them, but Haddock said supply chain issues mean it may take years.
“Well in I will admit that this is an area that is frustrating, it’s frustrating for us, too, we do not like to do estimated billing,” said Haddock.
She says customers like Chesney do owe the bills, even if they are unexpected. To protect yourself, you should check your water bills every so often. If your meter read was estimated, it has to be noted on your bill. By city code, the water department cannot estimate more than three months in a row.
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