Couple Appeals $700 Water Bills, Calls Usage Claim ‘Physically Impossible’

Carters say they were charged for 104,720 gallons in a two month period; water board rejects credit request.

Rick and Debi Carter say the Ramona Municipal Water District mistakenly billed them twice for more than $700, but the water board said they’re responsible to pay their bills.

The Carters spoke to the board at its meeting Tuesday, asking for forgiveness of their August and October water bills.

District staff proposed a $535.18 credit to the Carters, but recommended that the water board not approve the appeal, as by law, the district cannot gift public funds.

The $535.18 figure was the difference between the August and October 2012 billings for the Carters and the average water usage during the summer of the previous four years.

“We had two bills of $700,” Rick told the board. “There’s no way I’ve used $700 worth of water on my property. It’s unbelievable we have two of these bills.”

The Carters said that after they received their first $700 bill, they cut down drastically on water, causing surprise and confusion for the subsequent $700 water bill.

“It’s physically impossible,” Debi said. “When was the last time our meter was calibrated?”

Richard Hannasch, district financial services director, said a meter master was set and that once water runs through the meter, the customer is responsible for the water, whether it’s used or due to a leakage.

John Brean, water operations superintendent for the district, said that meter on the Carters’ property is just 5 years old and cannot be calibrated. Meter masters help confirm that the meter is accurate.

“It did show areas of high usage,” Brean said of the Carters’ meter master.

General Manager David Barnum noted that the price of water per unit is about $5. According to the district’s website, one unit of water equates to 748 gallons.

By that standard, the Carters used about 140 units of water during each $700 billing period, or about 104,720 gallons of water.

Board member Darrell Beck told Rick and Debi that these things happen and the customer is responsible for paying the bill.

“We have a lot of these cases,” Beck told the homeowners. “I’m sorry... if the meter reads what it reads, the water belongs to the customer.”

Debbie said their previous highest water bill in the past year was just $289, and if it isn’t a meter mistake, perhaps it’s a clerical mistake.

Another incident was brought up during the meeting regarding a similar case in the Country Estates. The property owners also had high water use from July-September of this year and had a reported bill of $846.31. They were asking for payment forgiveness and $518.96 credit.

No one from the property showed up at the board meeting to speak on the item.

The board unanimously voted against crediting both property owners.

Have you received a high water bill recently? The water board encouraged residents to check for leaks in both their yards and their neighbor’s yards. You can learn how to read your meter on the water district’s website.

Editor's note: By law, he Ramona Municipal Water District staff and board cannot provide fee forgiveness for customers, as it's considered a gift of public funds.

Gail Serfass December 13, 2012 at 04:38 AM
The Water District of this little place we live in called Ramona should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.....for the ridiculous prices that they make us pay to get the water here they should oh I don't know ...run a maintenance check on everything since you are robbing the people blind. And for Mr. Beck to say only that he is sorry and it is still the customers fault.....shame on you ....you should all be ashamed of themselves....and if Ramona never goes anywhere or gets on the map for something then it is all the people who claim to run and care about this place's fault if Ramona ends up falling apart
karen December 13, 2012 at 05:57 AM
I too had an unusually high bill recently.. what's going on? i have lived in the same home for 3 years.. nothing ever changes, and all of the sudden my bill was several hundred dollars higher than usual. I sure wish someone would figure out whats going on!
greg Chick December 13, 2012 at 04:10 PM
I do not represent RMWD, I do not even really like them, but consumers need to get the facts. As a contractor for over 35 yrs. I assure you meters do not read higher than goes thru them. Most meters cheat the District by being worn out. New meters usually just read volume more accurately and your bill goes up. Water leaks are very hard to find and are after the meter and like Mr. Beck said, the customers responsibility. $5 a unit is cheap water, RMWD is selling water at a low price. Call a professional to trouble shoot the leak, not me because I will not advertise my services in this forum, and I am not looking for work here. I am not defending RMWD, just stating my experience. Greg Chick
Jewels December 13, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Me too! It doubled for the last two billing cycles! I was compaing to my husband about it and telling him he shouldnt have increased the watering on the plants. He said he LOWERED it. We had no explaination for it being so high. I think they have a problem. After reading this, I am going to read my meter and make sure they are doing it correctly. Wish I knew who to complain to!
Jewels December 13, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Greg, I live in a newer home. My bill has doubled for the last two biling cycles. I spoke to my husband about the watering (I assumed he increased it, however he lowered it). What could explain the increase? I dont think its a coincident that we all have higher increased bills for the last two billing cycles. What could we be looking at? Because its a newer home, my pipes are run in my ceiling so if I had a leak I would know it. I do realize that I could have a leak between the home and the meter, but that is about 20 feet and if I did have that kind of leak, I would have a puddle or my neighbor whose property steps down from mine would have seen the seepage. This is double what I use, so that would be a huge leak.
Nancy E Price December 13, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Looks like Ramona Water is gouging people at random to increase income...guess I'll be getting my turn sometime soon...geez already...is everyone a crook???
Plumbersbestfriend December 13, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Mr Chick is absolutly correct! I also have some decades of experience and can tell you that i get a lot of calls from folks about the increased water bills. 99.9% of the time when I go out to the property i find a leak in the irrigation system. CHECK YOUR METER!!!!! If all of your water in the home is off and your meter is spinning than you have a leak and should call a professional. Also do not look at the dollar amount of your bill, look at how many units you are using. Peoples bills are going up because the COST of water is increasing, not thier USE of water. The cost of water FOR ALL WATER DISTRICTS AND CITIES HAVE DOUBLE OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, it is in the paper everyday.
greg Chick December 13, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Jewels, check your toilets with dye or food coloring in the tank. If the tank is leaking into the bowl and down the drain the bowl water will show the color. Does your house have or need a water pressure regulator? is it working? you can buy a pressure gauge at Ramona Irrigation around 12 bucks. screw it onto a hose bib and see your pressure. The water district will tell you what the pressure is at the street, this is the pressure that can creep into your house causing leaks. High pressure usually pushes out the toilet fill valves and goes down the overflow into the bowl then into the drain. I seriously doubt the RMWD does much to affect this issue except deliver 150 psi or more to water meters. 80 psi is max allowed by code in a building. The pressure regulator is what is needed to comply with this pressure reduction. Regulators do not last for ever and can leak past.. Greg Chick.
Plumbersbestfriend December 13, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Gail, I guess you do not like the water district. okay, join the club... but the cost of water is not their fault. The problem is the cost of water that EVERY WATER DISTRICT has to pay for water has doubled in the last couple of years. We live in a desert and all water is purchased from the State. It is brought here through long pipelines. Water prices are just like the price of gas. Our local ARCO station can't control the cost of oil or the cost of refining oil or trucking gas to the station. Water districts cant control the cost of water or the cost of delivering it to a desert like san diego. IT IS OUR RESPONSIBILTY TO MAKE SURE WE USE WATER,ELECTRICITY, PROPANE AND GAS EFFIECIENTLY. None of it is free. If you are so concerned about Ramona, do something about it. volunteer to pick up trash on the roads or at our local schools. STOP EXPECTING OTHER TO DO IT FOR YOU! RAMONA IS ON THE MAP AND IT IS UP TO EACH US TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Jewels December 13, 2012 at 05:34 PM
@Plumbersbestfriend - my water bill doubled from three bills ago. I normally run $100 for about 1/2 acre property & 4 bed home (yes I am ultra conservative with water) every billing cycle. My bill jumped to $200 for the last two billing cycles. I seriously doubt the RMWD doubled their prices from four months ago. I didn't know how to read my meter, but I do now and I am going to monitor the RMWD's invoices to me to make sure they are being input correctly. Maybe the meter reader wasn't acutally reading them and was estimating them? I wish I had checked before now.
Plumbersbestfriend December 13, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Jewels-The article has a link to the water company and shows on how to check your meter. I check my water meter, elecric meter, propane meter and gas meter in my truck all of the time. You will be shocked at how much you use, I was. If your water meter is spinning and have all of your water turned off, you have a leak. call a professional, even a slow leak will cost you hundreds of dollars in a month. I see it happen every day, all day long.
Jewels December 13, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Greg, we did have a problem when we first bought the new home and my bill was about $150 per billing cycle. Since then we bought a low water washing machine and my bill dropped to $100 per bililng cycle (might have been about the same time as the sprinkler pressure regulator). We purchased the guage and thats how we found out how bad it was. How it ever got past the inspectors is beyond me! We had well over 100 psi and hired a plumber to install the regulator to lower the psi. We were blowing the seals on the toilets and sprinkler heads! But that has been resolved for a couple of years. We have a regulator on the house and 2nd one on the sprinkler lines. No leaking toilets and no blown sprinker heads. I am going to check the meter and make sure it isn't spinning. If it isn't then my guess is that there must be a mistake on RMWD side. It could have been a meter reader who wasnt reading and is now playing catch up? In any case I am going to read it every month to make sure I am getting billed the right amount.
Kim December 13, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I hightly doubt it is just a coincidence that every person I have talked to in Ramona over a period of 2 billing cycles have all seen a dramatic increase in their water bills. My water bill went from the regular 200.00 per cycle to 750.00 in one cycle. My neighbors did the exact same thing. The last bililng cycle was 540.00 and we cut off all landscape watering. How is that possible? My husband installs underground plumbing and has done so for years. He is just as puzzled as all of the people I have talked to about this. Except of course the RUWD. They swear our small house could actually use that amount of water. I think my house would collapse in a sink hole if we had a leak that size.
Plumbersbestfriend December 13, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Honestly, there is no mystery. I have heard the same thing from people all over SD for decades. Stop typing on your computer and go out to your water meter and check it. It is in your front yard in a box with a little lid. Write down the number on the water meter and check it every day. THE WATER METER WILL TELL YOU HOW MUCH WATER YOU ARE USING!!!!! It literally takes a minute. Compare what you wrote down to your next water bill. IT IS JUST THAT EASY! If it is running all of the time you have a leak, call a professional. Here is another little hint...the last two bills i got reflect my summer water use. About 80% of peoples (not mine) water use is for outside irrigation. Your lawn and trees take a ton of water. A sprinkler heads can throw off 20 Gallons a minute!!! Compare your summer bills with the same bills from last year not the previous bills. GO READ YOUR METER, you will be amazed at how much water, electricty, propane you use. If you have a problem call a professional.
debra carter December 13, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Ok this is debi carter ive lived in ramona for 13 years. We had no leaks. Husband checked the meter several times a day meter not turning. I understand that guy eants to drum up bussines get a pro ect but my hisband is in construction. He knows this stuff. Were on the side of a hill. That much water would cause errosion puddles something. You know.everything runs down hill. The meter master says there was times of high water usage. Yeah we add about an inch of water to the pool a week and have been for 7 years. The meter master also said oir usage was back to normal. Wow howd thrt happen nothing was repaired tepaired
debra carter December 13, 2012 at 09:49 PM
I still think it was estimated or estimated wrong cal ulated wrong and its being covered up. We filled a 14000+ swiming pool and didnt have a 700$ bill. We graded a pad for rv storage firemans hose size ran for 2-8hour days didnt have a $700 bill. Thats alot of water! Especially after we stopped wateri.g everything and still got another one for $1.97 more the second bill. Something is wrong. And it not us. Dont tell me about conserving we live like were in a dry camp rv! I have solar (net) and give back tp the grid!
Kim December 13, 2012 at 11:29 PM
I agree debra. I think someone went crazy wrong and they are covering it up. We have checked our meter daily and it is NOT running all the time but for some reason our water bills show something dramatically different. I live with a professional and he can't find a problem. We checked our bills and usage for the past 4 years we have owned this house and there is NO way we used that amount of water. It is completely impossible. We would be in a sink hole or there would be constant run off going down the street. We work 50 plus hours a week which leaves the house completely empty all day. The only water usage we have is showers, dishes and what we cook with and drink (which is mostly purchased as bottled water from the store). So explain to me how we could possibly have a $700 bill under these circumstances. It is not a coincidence that most of the population of the estates has had the same problem for the past 2 bililng cycles. Seems a bit strange to me.
Jewels December 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I agree wtih Debra too. Something is off. My last bill I just got was for October and November, and we cut the watering, so it should be going down not up. Maybe a lazy meter reader not checking meters before, and he is playing catch up? Maybe he hasn't checked them the last two months and guessed? My bill isn't nearly what yours were, but mine doubled. And for the guy who says its from the summer, no because my bill didn't double every other summer. We have mostly natives and even killed off our grass in the back yard so we could water less. We only have one small grass patch in the front. When I get home tonight, I am going to check to make sure my meter isn't spinning but it is just too much of a coincidence that it is happening to all of us. My water bill is normally $50 a month, my electric is $50 a month, and my propane is $40-50 a month. I am frugal (or cheap as my husband says), so we know how to concerve. I haven't spoken to my neighbors about their water, but I am going to tonight. I know what their bills normally run (2-4 times what mine do) because we have discussed them!
Glenn December 14, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Thi sounds awefully familiar. Many years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, the WD (water district). moaned and groaned about drought and threatened rate hikes. So I performed an experiment. I used two 5 gal. buckets to catch the cold water that comes before the shower warms up to fill the toilet tank for the morning flushes. I pluged the tub and bailed grey water for the grass and plants. I did this for the enire household of 5 for 2 months. When the next bill came the payment went up by 15%. We called the WD and the explaination for the increase rather than decrease in the bill was due to the fact we conserved TOO MUCH!! They explained that if everyone conserved that much, they would shortly be operating in the red. Wow what a dupe or in other words a double edged blade.They are about profits which pay for pensions, benefits, outrageous salaries, and raises much like city workers and the like ( not conservation). My advice is to drill a well if you can and install solar to power to operate the motor. However keep in mind WD will charge 20 plus dollars a month to maintain the unused meter. Fair trade for the satisfacton of being the master of your own destiny.
debra carter December 17, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Meter master also confirmed that the meter meraculously returned to its normal reading of around $180-200.
Whisky Foxtrot December 28, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Folks, I can tell you Greg is not making these comments to drum up business. HE CARES! He even has a website with lots of FREE how-to plumbing videos and tips. (DIYplumbingAdvice.com), which are also on YouTube. Check it out. Here's one on how to check for leaks. http://youtu.be/0BcwA8T4WPo Last year I had a leak in the water main to my house. The RMWD meter reader called me when he read the meter and it was unusually high, and shut it off for me right then (thanks!). The bill was $1300!! ($1000 more than usual), so I can tell you it IS possible; and it wasn't that big of a leak either (small crack). But with the pressure from the main line at over 150 psi, it can lose a lot of water in a month or two! RMWD did not forgive a single dime of it (yeah, I got the "we can't donate water to you" line as well), but they did let me pay it off over 6 months. So, test for leaks and take the payment option if it helps out.


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