If you are a homeowner you probably have a monthly water and sewer bill. Since we are not connected to a municipal sewer system we only have to pay for water. A couple of years ago we had a fair amount of rainfall during the months of November through February. The ground stayed moist and damp most of that time and in particular around our water meter. Normally we would use a total of 12,000 to 15,000 gallons per month in the summer due to watering the lawn with our underground sprinkler system. Since we had so much rain I turned off the sprinkler timer in the fall. As expected during the winter months my water bill was for less than 8,000 gallons
One day in January while walking through the yard I noticed that the ground around the water meter was very wet. I opened up the cover to the meter and noticed that the small triangle shaped dial was slowly turning. Out of curiosity I went inside the house and shut off the incoming water supply disconnecting the house from the water meter. When I looked at the meter again the triangle-shaped dial was still turning at the same rate. It became obvious that I had a leak between the meter and the house.
I used a long screwdriver and started poking into the ground around the water meter and it was very soft. The further away I got from the meter the harder the ground became so I assumed the leak was around the meter. I took a shovel and began digging close to the meter and found that a check valve was cracked and leaking. A check valve allows the water to flow only in one direction and prevents any back feeding to the water supply. To remove the broken valve I shoveled dirt out from around it and used a PVC pipe cutter to cut the pipe. The valve was easily replaced by using PVC pipe couplings and glue. With the new check valve in place I checked for leaks and everything was ok. I failed to compare the meter register to the reading of the previous bills at this point.
The water bills for February and March were the same as a previous couple of months for less than 8,000 gallons so I assumed that it had only been leaking for a very short period of time. The following month of April was a different story. I got a bill for about $500 with a consumption of 42,000 plus gallons! I can only imagine how much the bill would have been if we were connected to sewer. I compared the billed amount to the water meter register reading and it was within 1,000 gallons so I knew it had to be correct. The water meter triangle-shaped dial was at a standstill indicating no water flow so it was evident there were no leaks but what could have gone wrong.
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Being confused I called the water company and they looked up my account and told me I must have filled up my swimming pool. I explained that we do not have a pool much less an Olympic sized one. They offered to read the meter again but I further explained that the reading was accurate and I had repaired a leak 3 months previous to the April bill but the last 2 bills never reflected the enormous water usage and I asked why.
Taking my complaint to the president of the water board, he finally told me that the bills were estimated between December and March due to not having enough employees to read all the meters every month. There is nothing on the bill to indicate that the readings were estimated and not actual. So the soggy ground I walked on in November was actually the start of the leak but because the water bills reflected normal use and the rainfall we had I didn’t think about a leak.
It was my fault for having a leak as I explained but it was the fault of the water company for not reading the meter. If the meter had been read as normal I would have known there was a leak and would have corrected it immediately. The president of the water company assured me that in the future all meters will be read monthly and not estimated. They were so nice about it and they gave me $10 (ten dollars) off the $500 bill.
Since that April after being assured by the president of the water board that all meters will be read in the future, I frequently captured the meter readings with a picture taken by a digital camera. This was an easy way to compare the previous readings to see if too much water was being consumed and possibly indicating another leak. Just to see if the meter was actually being read as promised, I would place a small pebble on the top of the meter cover located under the meter box lid. If the pebble was missing I assumed that possibly the meter reader looked inside the meter box and took a reading.
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You need to read the small print on your water bill. Ours states the following;
Failure to receive a bill does not relieve the consumer of payment and penalty. If the bill remains unpaid 30 days after the Pay Gross after date, service may be discontinued without further notice. Applicable re-connection fees must be paid before service is restored.
What I have learned out of this is to compare the readings indicated on your monthly bill to the meter. This would have saved me hundreds of dollars if I had done so. Rightfully the utility companies are only concerned about what happens on their side of the meters and they will have little to no mercy. Once the water passes through the meter whether it was normal use or a leak you will be billed for it.
So how much does water leak cost? Around $490.00.