Get Gephardt: Homeowner gets $7K water bill for water she says she didn’t use
Nov 15, 2023, 10:39 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2023, 1:20 pm
HOLLADAY — Imagine opening your mailbox to find a water bill demanding several thousand dollars for just one month’s use of water. When it happened to a Holladay woman, she decided to Get Gephardt.
A big house with nice landscaping certainly can suck up a lot of water. And Cora Scarlet-Ring says they’ve been known to use quite a bit, especially in the hot summer months but nothing like the bill she received for the month of August.
“We got a water bill that was outrageous,” Scarlet-Ring said.
The bill was $7,228.21 for the use of 105,400 cubic feet of water – enough to fill one Olympic-sized swimming pool and a fifth of another. Stunned, she called the water company.
No leak found
“You must have a leak somewhere,” they told her.
That’s a heck of a leak but Scarlet-Ring called a landscaper and a plumber to look for where all that water might be escaping.
“They found no leak,” she said.
No broken sprinklers. No broken pipes. No running toilets. Nothing.
What could be even more bizarre is that by the next month, her home’s water usage dropped back to normal.
“How do we have a leak and then it just goes away?” she asked. “I think it’s the something with the meter.”
But the water company insists its 19-year-old meter is not to blame. The measured water usage is real, it says. Scarlet-Ring can’t believe it.
“We would have heard it. We would have felt it. We would have seen it,” she said.
When the city said pay up or they would shut her water off, Scarlet-Ring decided it was time to call me.
“I’d rather give that $7,000 to some type of charity than to something that I didn’t use,” she said. “We did not use that water.”
It’s a common problem
She pays Salt Lake City Public Utilities for her water. Its deputy director, Jason Brown, says dramatic spikes in bills are more common than you might think.
“We get billing complaints actually quite often,” he said.
There’s usually an explanation, like a leak. But in Scarlet-Ring’s case, he’s confident the problem is not her meter.
“In the 23 years of using these meters, we’ve not had a situation where the meter’s been wrong,” Brown said.
They verify that by pulling the meters out of the ground and bringing them back here to their warehouse to test them.
That’s what they did with her meter, and they found it working – accurately measuring the water that was going through. The utility agreed to test it again with our cameras rolling so we could see for ourselves. Sure enough, it shows it is working. If anything, the test shows she may have been undercharged a little.
“This was an Olympic-sized pool and a half that went away in one month,” I asked Brown. “Where did it (the water) go?”
“I do not know,” he answered. “Once that commodity leaves the meter, we have no way of tracking the water.”
“You’re powerless,” Scarlet-Ring said about her situation. “It’s our word against their word.”
There is a small silver lining for her. After investigating, the utility company found she had been overcharged as the result of a recent rate change.
That knocked about $1,400 off her bill. The utility still plans to collect the remaining $5,600. As to what happened to all that water is anyone’s guess.
She will not get any more surprise bills in the future. Salt Lake City Public Utilities has installed a new “smart” meter at her home. Rather than somebody driving around and reading the meter once a month, it reads water usage every few hours and will alert her if there’s abnormally high usage of water.