KPRC 2 Investigates: Outdated water equipment = inaccurate bills

HOUSTON – We’ve heard from you about inaccurate, inflated, and excessive water bills. As KPRC 2 Investigates continues digging into these Houston water department issues leaving you “DRAINED,” Amy Davis has discovered one of the many problems is outdated and non-working equipment. This problem translates into inaccurate bills.

Reading devices on meters may cause issues

KPRC 2 Investigates water bill issues in Houston. Old technology means some meters often read wrong. The City is in the process of replacing the parts to get this issue corrected. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

There are about 500,000 water meters in Houston. Each of them is outfitted with a reading device on it that transmits your meter reading back to the water department. But the reading devices are now more than 20 years old and most of them no longer work.

  • Some meters work. About 175,000 meter-reading devices work like they’re supposed to transmit your meter reading back to the water department each month in real-time. (35%)
  • Some halfway work. Other devices work but their signal is too weak to beam your reading back to the city. For these meters about 220,000 of them, the water department has to send a van down the street to get in closer range with the devices to pick up your meter reading.
  • Some don’t work at all and need physical readings. That leaves about 105,000 meters that need a meter reader to come to take an actual reading every month. But the water department says they are only physically reading about 55,000 meters each month. The other 50,000 meters are estimated. The water department is using past bills to guess how much water you used and base your bill on that.

So why not just replace all of those outdated, broken reading devices?

What outdated water meters mean to your bills.

The city says it is but the company they ordered them from isn’t sending as many as the city needs as fast as it needs them.

  • Since 2021, Houston has only replaced 34,576 reading devices.
  • They had hoped to have replaced 79,650 of them at this point.

“The current program will replace all of those transmitter devices. We call them endpoints. The plan was a 5-year period, but to date because of the covid and the pandemic and the supply chain shortages, we still haven’t even received the amount we need for the first year,” said Carol Haddock with Houston Public Works.

This is why it’s important for you to check your bills.

Changes to City of Houston water bills after our 'DRAINED' KPRC 2 Investigation. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

If they are estimated, they should say that on the front page and the second page of your bill. If you get one of those, you should go look at your meter and see if your reading matches or is at least close to the estimated reading on your bill.

If it’s not take pictures of your meter reading and call the water department to get them to change it on your account.

RELATED: Changes to your water bills

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.