HOUSTON – Standing before Houston City Council Tuesday night, Niya Valentine said her water bill has been a headache.
“My water bill is normally $40. Imagine waking up and having a water bill that had $9,700,” said Valentine.
Valentine noticed one of her bills was skipped.
“When I go to pull my bills, there is no July. There is no July statement. It goes straight to the August,” Valentine told KPRC 2 reporter Corley Peel.
Valentine said she signed up for the city’s Consumption Awareness Program. It alerts customers through text or email about excessive water consumption or to check for water leaks, but Valentine was never notified.
“No leak alert, no email, no information, but when they want that money, they can find you,” said Valentine.
Valentine later found out she had a private leak in a spare bathroom in her home, but again, she did not receive a notification. Valentine reached out to customer service about the failed alert system.
“And I was told that it didn’t work. When I called the customer service, they said, ‘Oh, that doesn’t work.’ Well, why are you offering?” Valentine said.
KPRC 2 reached out to public works to find out if the alert system is not working. A spokesperson said they are looking into our request. On the website, registering for the usage alerts is still an option.
Councilperson Carolyn Evans-Shabazz said during Tuesday’s meeting she is also wanting an explanation for why the alert system failed Valentine.
“I don’t understand. If there’s a system in place to advise people, why did that not work? Because that could have perhaps given you an opportunity, as you said, to be able to abate the issue and you wouldn’t have been faced with that insurmountable bill the next month,” said Evans-Shabazz.
“I’m currently trying to pay it down, scraping up savings, getting loans, and I’m one of the people that my water bill is higher than any other bill right now,” said Valentine.
Valentine said she has filed an appeal but feels the headache could have been avoided. City council members did acknowledge that there was a problem with the water department during last night’s meeting.
Houston Public Works sent KPRC 2 the following statement Wednesday:
Houston Public Works strives to provide accurate water bills for City of Houston water customers every month. This includes reading and maintaining more than 500,000 meters throughout Houston. All Houston Water customers have the option to create online profiles for their accounts.
All water meters have an electronic reading device that transmits the amount of a customer’s water usage to Customer Account Services (CAS). Part of the city’s aging water meter infrastructure includes electronic reading devices. Houston Public Works continues to replace meter reading devices after the old devices reached their end of life. As of October 2023, 71,000 meters have upgraded meter reading devices. The 5-year program is currently in its eighth year due to a delay in shipments of the new devices due to the worldwide chip shortage.
Customers have the option of signing up for usage alerts if they have an upgraded meter reading device. These alerts are available through text message or email. As more reading devices get upgraded, more customers will have the opportunity to receive usage alerts. Every customer’s account is different. If a customer’s usage alerts do not function properly, we advise them to reach out to Customer Account Services (713.371.1400) to investigate the issue. Any customer may also request a report of their water usage from CAS.
We understand that it is frustrating for customers to receive high water bills. It is important to know that water bills go through a quality review process, with 78% of readings auto-approved and the remainder flagged for a manual review. By the end of this process, 99.2% of accounts are billed correctly. There are 0.8% incorrect bills which can be attributed to a variety of reasons including aging infrastructure, human performance (for example, an error in visual meter reading), meter reading estimates, inclement weather, and damaged components or meters.
Customer Account Services is committed to reviewing all disputed bills and following city ordinances for any adjustments a customer may qualify for. We are actively reviewing our process to provide the best customer service. Customers with questions about their bill are encouraged to reach out to Customer Account Services (713.371.1400).
What is the KPRC 2 ‘DRAINED’ Investigation?
The ‘DRAINED’ Investigation has always been about transparency. You should be able to understand your water bill and the charges. When you believe there is an error, there should be a clear process on how to resolve it fairly. The city of Houston has made no real changes since our investigation began. Our ‘DRAINED’ Investigation includes dozens of stories and we have recovered at least $80,000 for customers.
We’ve seen time after time the process can be difficult and confusing for customers.
We hope you know by now we don’t give up until we get you answers.