‘DRAINED’ Investigation: How you can get help paying a very large water bill

Getting a large, unexpected bill can be very stressful, especially if you don’t know why you’re being charged. This is part of why our KPRC 2 Investigates team keeps working to get answers about your water bill issues. Each time we introduce you to someone dealing with water bill struggles we hear from more of you. Investigator Amy Davis answers some of your questions.

Last week we introduced you to a woman with the highest water bill we’d ever helped with. At one point it was $51,000.

KPRC 2 'DRAINED' Investigation into water bill issues. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

By the time we caught up with Julia Benjamin, she’d worked on her own to negotiate a $51,000 water bill down to $39,000.

“I’ve been dealing with this ever since 2020 on my own trying to get everything solved, but I couldn’t do it,” said Benjamin.

How does a water bill even get this high? Why wouldn’t the city just turn off her water?

In Benjamin’s case, her Northeast side home flooded during Hurricane Harvey. In 2020 she was still out of her home when a meter leak was discovered. Turns out it had been gushing water for six months. She lost 527,000 gallons of water in one month alone.

'DRAINED' Investigation answers your question about high water bills in Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

A city of Houston spokesperson told us no, they won’t just turn off water at a home that is using a large amount of water.

[You can check out the city ordinance for all of the specifics.]

While the city told us they won’t just turn off water at a home that is using a large amount of water, we found section 47-457 of the city ordinance says they might during certain restrictions.

“The director may monitor the water account of any customer who has been convicted of a violation of section 47-253. Daily monitoring may continue through the end of the existing water shortage period. The director may turn off city water if a customer has violated the authorized water use during a stage three water shortage on three separate instances within a 30-day period.”

How did water customer get the bill lowered on her own before contacting Amy?

Benjamin first applied for an unusually large water bill discount. The option to do this is right on the home screen of your water bill.

We are answering questions after our latest 'DRAINED' Investigation. The first step to getting help for a large water bill is to make an "Unusually Large Bill" request. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

When you apply, the request goes into a review, and you are either confirmed or denied the break. For Benjamin, the city lowered the bill by $12,000 and set up a payment plan. It was still too much.

SEE MORE: Very detailed steps for fighting a high water bill

Can anyone apply to get help paying off high water bills?

In the process of KPRC 2 advocating for Benjamin, the city contacted non-profit BakerRipley to pay off her bill.

BakerRipley is a recipient of funding through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). LIHWAP funding through BakerRipley is available to income-eligible households residing in Brazoria, Galveston and Harris Counties.

BakerRipley tells us households must also receive service from one of the vendors we have water agreements with. Here is a list of those vendors:

  • City of Houston
  • City of Angleton
  • City of Freeport
  • City of Galveston
  • City of Hitchcock
  • City of LaMarque
  • City of League City
  • Harris County WCID - Fondren Road

You do not need a referral to apply for this help as long as you use one of the eligible water vendors. The BakerRipley Utility Assistance application is available for download. You can also call the BakerRipley Utility Assistance Hotline at 713-590-2327.

What are the qualifications for getting water bill help from BakerRipley?

The BakerRipley eligibility requirements include:

  • Meet the income requirements
  • Provide proof of identity for all household members with a valid Texas Driver License
  • Provide proof of Citizenship or legal residency for at least one household member with a U.S. Passport, U.S. Birth Certificate, U.S. Permanent Resident Card
  • Provide proof of income for the past 30 days for all household members 18 years of age and older with employer gross wages, Social Security, Unemployment, SNAP, TANF, Child Support, Adoption Subsidies, Food Stamp Award Letter, Retirement, V.A. Disability, etc.
  • Provide a copy of current water bill showing the front and back

KPRC 2 ‘DRAINED’ Investigation is getting results

Homeowner living in brand new subdivision gets unexplained outrageous water bill. KPRC 2 'DRAINED' Investigation is getting answers. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Including the help we got Benjamin for her bill, our ‘DRAINED’ Investigation has now refunded Houstonians a total is $86,742.01. In total, we’ve done 30+ investigations into water bill issues. We will not stop working for you. Email Amy Davis or Producer Andrea Slaydon if you have any water bill concerns/questions.

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.