AUSTIN (KXAN) – It just kills Lori Latimer to let her plants die. “These are some Mother’s Day gifts,” she said. “I used to have beautiful pink and white flowers all over this one and now it’s just a weed almost.”

Still, there’s no way she’s watering now. 

“With the water situation as it is,” she said. “I had to stop.”

That situation is her new Austin Water smart meter.

In 2020, Austin Water began an ambitious, five-year project to replace all 250,000 analog water meters in the city with new, digital meters that measure and transmit water usage by wireless transmission. Austin Water said the conversion will cost $95.1 million dollars, paid for with low-interest loans from the Texas Water Development Board.

Latimer, a medical practice manager, said ever since Austin Water installed the smart meter at her north Austin home in the spring, “Each month my water usage goes up and up and up.”

‘Not smart at all,” she added. “This meter has a mind of its own.”

Her most recent bill, almost $50, shows she used more than 11,000 gallons in a month. Her bills show that’s triple the amount of water she used during the same time period last year, even though she said her habits have not changed.

  • North Austin Resident Lori Latimer shows Investigator Mike Rush her water bills (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)
  • Latimer believes her water bill has continued to go up ever since Austin Water installed a new, digital smart meter (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Latimer's recent bill shows she used more than 11,000 gallons of water, three times more than what she used last year during the same time period (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)

“I’m very conscientious about reserving resources,” she said, illustrating her point by revealing she uses water from cooking spaghetti and vegetables to water plants.

Latimer said she’s checked for running toilets and leaking pipes but found nothing.

“I think there is something wrong with the meter,” she concluded.

But when Austin Water investigated at her request, she got an email back stating the smart meter was working fine.

Gabriela Olivares knows the feeling. She got her smart meter around the same time as Latimer and, like Latimer, she noticed what she thought was excessive usage.  

“For one hour, it showed 40 gallons,” she pointed out on her bill.

She too contacted Austin Water. She said twice a technician came out and each time, “nothing’s wrong with the meter.”

According to Austin Water, one of the benefits of the new digital meters is the information they gather that customers can access online, and that’s how Olivares knew there was a problem.

“May 14 was Mother’s Day,” Olivares said. “And it shows that I used 139 gallons of water. I wasn’t home.”

  • North Austin Resident Gabriela Olivares looks over her water bills (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Austin Water eventually discovered it had crossed the wires between Olivares' water meter and her neighbors' (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)

So, Olivares had Austin Water come once again. This time, the technician figured out the problem. Wires were crossed between her water meter and her neighbor’s.

“My account was showing the water usage for my neighbor,” she said.

Austin Water has so far, installed about 168,000 of the 250,000 meters. The company expects to be done by 2025.  

KXAN Investigates wanted to know how many other customers have complained about suspected inaccurate readings from the new meters.

But we didn’t get the records because an Austin Water spokeswoman said the company doesn’t track that information.

It’s because, the spokesperson said, customers have multiple ways to complain, including calling or emailing City of Austin Utilities, reaching out to Austin Water’s customer service or emailing through a portal. And those systems, the spokeswoman said, are separate.

In order to fulfill KXAN’s request, she stated it would take several people a combined 40 hours to gather the data at a cost of $700.

Here’s the email from the Austin Water spokesperson to KXAN Investigator Mike Rush stating that:

The amount that the City’s Law Department has provided to be fully responsive to your Public Information Request is accurate. According to the Texas Public Information Act, if processing a request will take more than three hours, we are required to charge for that time. It’s estimated that processing this request will take several people a combined ~40 hours to process. Here’s why:

Austin Water customers have multiple avenues for submitting questions and complaints about their bill. They can call or email City of Austin Utilities Customer Care (which is managed by Austin Energy). They can also reach out to Austin Water’s Customer Service Team and email us through the My ATX Water portal. Those systems are separate and do not allow uniform way to sort complaints specific to the new meters, and over the two-year time frame that you identify there are more than 10,000 inquiries to sort through. To really identify which customer complaints are specific to any inaccuracies with the new meters is a manual process.

As customer inquiries come in about the accuracy of their bill, we work to resolve them as quickly as possible. At any given time, there are usually only a handful of billing investigations that are underway. We have not seen a rise in on-going, pending investigations into billing inaccuracies.

Amy Petri, Austin Water marketing services manager

Austin Water refused our request for an interview and would not answer why it hasn’t established a uniform system for tracking customer complaints of suspected false readings on such a large project.

Austin Water eventually rerouted the wires and corrected Olivares’ issues, but Latimer is still waiting.  

“I’m going to keep bugging them until they do something,” she said.

In a statement, a spokesperson told KXAN Investigator Mike Rush Austin Water will look into Latimer’s case and work to get it corrected as quickly as possible.

The spokesperson also said there are processes in place to prevent inaccurate readings, including testing by the manufacturer before delivery, additional testing on a sample of meters by Austin Water, a 10-step process to verify accuracy after installation, and manual and electronic reads conducted simultaneously through two complete billing cycles.

Here’s the email from Austin Water stating the steps the company said it takes:

Unfortunately Austin Water cannot provide an interview at this time, but please see below for a statement that can be attributed to Austin Water:

Thanks for bringing these two customer concerns to our attention. While it is always AW’s goal to solve all issues in a single visit, we are glad that the first problem was identified and resolved. We will look into the other complaint and work to get it corrected as quickly as possible.

An integral part of the My ATX Water meter process is quality control to prevent inaccuracies in billing. Each My ATX Water meter is tested by the manufacturer for accuracy before delivery. Austin Water conducts additional tests on a representative sample of meters to validate accurate registered readings. Albeit a significantly small percentage, we have rejected meters that failed this analysis.

Additionally, each My ATX Water meter undergoes a 10-step certification process to verify accuracy after installation. After installation, manual and electronic reads are conducted simultaneously through two complete billing cycles to ensure accuracy before billing switches entirely to electronic reads through the meter. We’ve also caught issues in this way before they impact the customer.

More than 164,000 My ATX Water meters have been installed since 2021; however, Austin Water has yet to see an uptick in billing complaints. Austin Water works to resolve and close these complaints on an individual basis as quickly as possible, and we do not have a backlog of open billing cases.

We encourage customers to reach out if they think there is an error with their billing. They can contact the City of Austin Utilities Customer Care at (512) 494-9400 or Contact Us ( Any concerns that cannot be addressed are escalated to Austin Water’s Customer Service team for resolution. Customers can also reach us through the My ATX Water portal. If customers are experiencing a service impact or water emergency, they can call our 24/7 dispatch center at (512) 972-1000.

Scott Sticker, Austin Water spokesperson

As Olivares’ case demonstrated, those steps won’t necessarily pick up on human error, like improper installation.

If customers suspect there is an issue with their bill, Austin Water said they can report their concerns by contacting the City of Austin Utilities Customer Care at (512) 494-9400 or Customers can also reach Austin Water through the My ATX Water portal.