It might be difficult to imagine now with the chill that has settled in, but temperatures soared during the late summer months.
Little rain fell during the same period, leading residents of the area to lean on their water suppliers more heavily for a spell, a representative of the Green Valley Special Utility District said.
The excess use sent water bills soaring leaving some customers scratching their heads. It’s fairly simple, said Pat Allen, Green Valley SUD general manager.
“In the water utility business, complaints about high bills are not unusual. It does happen from time to time,” he said. “Normally, through our investigations, we find that most of the time the customers actually used it. The water could be due to leaks they’re not aware of or sprinkler systems. There are several factors that could cause a customer’s water bill to be higher.”
Over the last several months, GVSUD has noticed a heavier demand on its water supplies, Allen said. The numbers are unusual for the most recent months billed, but that’s likely due to the lack of rain and increased heat, he said.
Some Guadalupe County residents are paying these higher bills but they aren’t buying the explanations.
Enrique Leon lives in the Legend Point subdivision in the Guadalupe County section of New Braunfels. He’s lived in his home a short time so he’s still getting used to his utility bills.
However, he thought something was fishy when his most recent bill jumped by nearly 70%.
“My water bill the month before that was $400,” Leon said. “I’ve got friends that have been living in New Braunfels for the past couple years, a couple friends that are homeowners. I tell them about my bill and they’re like, ‘dude something’s wrong.’
“(My September bill) was $670 for one month.”
With eight people living in the home, he said he initially wasn’t sure how much the water bill would be. He was taken aback when he saw the August bill for $400, but resigned to pay it.
Then when September’s bill came in, it threw him for a loop, Leon said.
A GVSUD representative told him it was likely due to his irrigation system, Leon said.
“I cut everything down,” he said. “I asked the whole household to cut down on shower times. I cut the sprinkler system down to just two days, three stations a day,” he said. “I accepted the $400 when I got the first one. I said well I guess that’s what it is around here. Then I get the $670 one and I said this is crazy.”
The numbers Michael Wise personally seen, and those of his neighbors appear a bit wacky to him, too, he said.
Wise, who lives in the Southbank subdivision, also in the Guadalupe County section of New Braunfels, said his water bill saw a significant month-over-month increase recently, and he’s spoken with several neighbors who also have complained to him about their larger-than-normal bills.
One neighbor saw an increase in usage about two and a half times the average, Wise said. Others saw similar increases or more.
Wise said he lives alone, has minimal landscape to water with no sprinkler system, and averages about 1,600 gallons of water each month. But his two most recent bills skyrocketed, he said.
“For four years I’ve lived here and my water bill averages 1,600, 1,700 gallons every month,” Wise said. “Then in September it was 3,000 gallons. October it was 3,800 gallons. It just struck me as being incorrect.”
He said he contacted the water provider and was told he must’ve been doing something wrong or had a leak in his system. Overwatering was one suggestion.
He paid his bills so as not to get shut off, but recently visited GVSUD’s offices to get a better understanding of what might have caused the spike, Wise said.
“They told me, like I said, that ‘you’re watering too much’ or ‘you got a leak,’” he said. “On Oct. 29, I had a plumber come out to test to see if I had a leak. I don’t have a leak.”
Next someone told him that the company would send out a technician to inspect his meter but that there would be a charge to the customer to pay for the inspection, Wise said.
“I said ‘okay, well come out and inspect the meter,’” he said. “As far as I know, nobody has come out to inspect the meter.”
Wise said he has resorted to checking his meter every day and recording the readings.
He would like GVSUD to take a hard look at its systems, figure out why the bills have ballooned and effectively explain the findings to the customers.
He doesn’t think his bills are as large as other residents — like the woman he heard about who had a water bill showing usage of about 96,000 gallons.
“I’d like them to do a check of their whole system,” Wise said. “My amount of increase is not that much compared to others who saw 50,000 gallons or in one case 96,000 gallons, but I don’t know how you could do that. Somewhere in the system it just seems like there’s a question about these exorbitant volumes.”
Allen said he’s been in contact with a family that received a bill showing more than 90,000 gallons of water used. His team is investigating what happened there.
“I will agree their usage was pretty normal, minimal, then all of a sudden, bam, 96,000 gallons. We’re investigating that,” Allen said. “We take every customer’s issue and their concerns seriously. If the customer believes they are paying for more water than they consumed during a billing cycle, we have things we ask them to check.”
He said they ask if customers have had changes in their water usage, do they have leaks. Toilets and faucets can make a difference, irrigation can be a culprit, water softeners can be a problem, Allen said.
GVSUD spot checks its meters, which are the only tool the company has of measuring customers’ use, he said. In his 20-plus years experience working with the utility, he has never noticed issues with meters overcharging customers, Allen said.
When they’re working improperly, meters drag or stop counting gallons, working in the customers’ favor, he said.
But, the company wants to hear from anyone who believes they’ve been overcharged for water they didn’t use, Allen said. GVSUD will address any issues where someone was erroneously charged, he said.
There has to be an exchange of information between the company and the customer, Allen said.
“This is something that’s ongoing,” he said. “It’s not just today or tomorrow or last year or last month. This is our business. We appreciate our customers, we rely on our customers. This is what we’re in business for.”