HOUSTON – Your response to our investigation of the Houston Water Department shows us the stories resonated. We spent months investigating and brought you a week’s worth of stories focusing on issues people in our area are having with the City of Houston water department. The KPRC 2 Investigates team is fielding your emails and phone calls while working on getting you help.
We asked for your concerns and here is some of what we heard
We have received more than 120 emails and phone calls from Houston water customers in the last two weeks. All but six of them are about unusually high water bills that customers cannot resolve, including some with bills of more than $3,000.
Investigator Amy Davis attended a city council meeting on Nov. 8 to speak with the mayor and council members about these issues. It was during that meeting the mayor said the city only has complaints on about 50 inaccurate bills each month.
“What we should not do is when those bills spike like that is just to insist that the customer pay the bill. That’s when they say, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.’ Ok? So this is not a gotcha game. It should not be a gotcha game. And we need to work through that. Now having said that, let me just say this, you know they are dealing with 500,000 accounts. And we’re talking about a small percentage of that,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
What happened in some of the cases we brought you in our ‘DRAINED’ series?
We asked the water department for an update on two cases we shared earlier this month.
Edward Williams, 68, had a $7,500 water bill the city was insisting he pays. After our investigation and inquiries, the city sent us this statement:
“After applying an unusually large bill adjustment for one month and an exceptional circumstances for the remaining two months, we were able to credit his account $4,440.56. The current balance for nonpayment is $3,091.73. A hold has been placed on the account balance as we work with Mr. Williams and local agencies to see if they can assist with the remaining balance.”
We did follow up. Williams had agreed to pay the outstanding balance on his account from before his water was shut off in 2018, but that balance was only $2573.77 before three months of unusually large bills showing he used 48,000 gallons in May, 78,000 gallons of water in June and another 64,000 gallons in July. After that July bill, William’s meter readings and water bills went down to show he owed less than $40 each month. We asked why the amount Williams owed had increased by $500 since his account was supposed to be on hold.
Public Works Public Information Officer Erin Jones replied with the following statement:
“Placing an account on hold eliminates the risk of late fees & disruption of service. Mr. Williams’ account already does not accrue late fees since it is marked “senior citizen.” Customer Account Services applied each available credit they could to Mr. Williams account within City ordinance. The credit from the Exceptional Circumstances Adjustment removes any usage in access of five times the average usage. The Unusually Large Bill adjustment removes any usage in excess of 1 ½ times the average usage. The average monthly usage for Mr. Williams is 2,000 gallons.”
Andrew Chesney tried to make sense of his bills for months when he received an unexplained, additional charge of $1,149 on his September bill. The dial on his meter had stopped spinning in August.
The city sent this statement:
“The Customer Account Services review of the account found that the register on the water meter became stuck between the August & the September readings. We determined that the water meter was and is functioning properly. Our team replaced the register and billed the account based on the average monthly usage. This resulted in a refund of $1,695.76 to the account.”
Next steps for the KPRC 2 Investigates ‘DRAINED’
Here is what we are doing moving forward. We are taking your complaints and going back to the city for an explanation of the unusually high bills.
We will continue to follow up, to bring you answers and push the city for transparency on our water bills and meter readings. That is why we want to hear from you. You can email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are having an issue that you cannot resolve with the city.
SEE MORE: The main page for our ‘DRAINED’ series includes individual cases and helpful info for any issues you might be having.