Steiner Ranch customers see huge spike in water bills

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TRAVIS COUNTY (KXAN) — Nancy Burton has never had a water bill this high.

She says September’s bill surpasses even the month she and her family installed a 21,000-gallon swimming pool.

“I looked at my husband and I said, what in the world,” said Burton.

She’s far from alone.

“There are hundreds of [Facebook] comments,” she said.

More than 100 customers in and around Steiner Ranch have reached out to the utility, Travis County Water District #17, looking for answers regarding what appears to be a huge increase in their water bills.

Dozens of others have sent their bills to KXAN investigators.

In some cases, the customers say their September bill is four or five times higher than normal.

“My average bill over the last 8 years is $98.03 per month, and I just got a bill for $541.09,” said Dave George, who lives in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood.

KXAN brought some of these bills to WCID #17 General Manager Jason Homan, who says every case is different.

“If we get more than 20 or 30 calls a week for anything, it kind of raises the alarm bell for what might be going on here, that we need to dig a little deeper,” he said.

That includes looking at the individual bills of customers, some he says don’t even realize they were using thousands of gallons of water for their lawns every night.

Homan showed us three different bills where customers used more than 4,000 gallons per night for irrigation, several nights a week.

He says there are 35 days in September’s billing cycle, and because of the utility’s tiered billing structure, customers pay more if they use more.

Most billing cycles have 28 or 29 days. February, June, and November have 34 days.

“We do our best to ensure that the longer billing cycles are not in months that we believe are going to have a negative impact on the customer,” said Homan.

“Are circumstances going to sometimes get in the way? Yes.”

Homan said those circumstances include weather and staffing.

For example, Homan said the utility would be able to even out the billing cycles if it had more staff to read meters at different times of the month.

He said right now, doing that is too expensive.

Instead, customers feel like it’s them taking the hit.

Many we spoke with insist they did not use more water than usual and are skeptical over the utility’s response.

“There’s no leak, there’s nothing we’re doing that’s different,” said Burton.

The utility says customers shouldn’t rule out other issues, like a leak.

They can check for a leak by shutting off their water. If the dial on their meter is still spinning, it’s likely there is a leak.

The utility says customers who can show they have a leak and took action to fix it will be eligible for an adjustment on their bill.

If there is no leak, customers can call WCID #17 to get a specific breakdown of their water usage in September.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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