News Feature | March 19, 2014

Water Bills In D.C. Area Rise Over $1K This Winter

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

cashreg

Maryland resident Debra Doherty's mouth dropped when she opened her water bill recently: The total was $1,101.65.

“I panicked,” she told The Gazette. “The highest bill I have ever had was for $307.”

Doherty is not alone. Ratepayers around the capital are outraged that their water bills are running so high this season. 

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is fielding a lot of complaints. It said high bills are the result of the difficult weather this winter. The utility's spokeswoman Lyn Riggins explained the correlation to ABC 7. 

"Our meter readers are behind. They have not been able to get to meters that have been buried under snow and as a result customers are getting billed for a longer-than-normal billing cycle," Riggins said.

"Some customers are being billed for up to 30 additional days, which alone would produce a bill up to 30 percent higher," the report said, citing the utility.

School closings also increase the bill, according to Riggins. "If you're home from work and your kids are home from school, you're in the house - you're probably using more water than you normally use," she said. 

As the Washington Post put it: "What did many of us do while stuck at home during recent snow days? Apparently, we flushed. A lot."

"Kids playing in snow also could have led to more laundry — each load uses up to 40 gallons of water — and cooking more at home would have required additional runs of the dishwasher, which can use up to 15 gallons per load," the Post noted. 

Customers are confused about the higher bills. "We're hearing from a lot of customers that their bill is high and they don't understand why," Riggins told ABC.

"More toilet flushing, more loads of laundry, more loads of dishes and before you know it, you could use a couple of extra hundred gallons of water in a week," she said.

Roger Berliner, a councilman in Baltimore's Montgomery County, said he has been fielding complaints about water prices.  

"People are calling us, emailing us, and saying, 'Councilmember Berliner, my bill is normally $200. This bill was $1,100 - I can't pay that bill. What is going on here?'" he said to ABC.

He is not convinced by the utility's explanation. 

"You can't explain this by saying, 'Gee, there was a lot of snow. People were home and they were using more water,'" he said.

"Really, I don't think if they were running six bath tubs every day it would justify these kinds of bills," he said. "Something is really wrong here and they need to figure it out fast."

The utility said that in response to the complaints, it is taking the following actions: "Reading meters seven days a week, including evenings, extending the bill payment deadline by a month for customers who make the request and demonstrate a need, providing a billing arrangement for those with higher than normal bills."

Image credit: "100 Dollar Bills," Phillip Taylor PT © 2012, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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