Oh, the mysteries and wonder of space-age technology that we could sometimes do without.
Just ask Betty Moore, a somewhat feisty 70-year-old who was not happy when she phoned the Advocate newsroom about the Town of Innisfail’s responses to her out-of-this-world water bill.
The bill is generally around $84 per month. But when it arrived for the period between June 16 to July 15, it was $760.20.
“It’s bull—-. Everybody I talk to says it’s bull—-,” says Betty.
The water she was billed for is enough to fill up four or five swimming pools, she says.
Betty and her husband, Clarence, 75, have lived in their 1,040-square-foot bungalow at 3667 54th Ave. in Innisfail for three decades.
The average home in Innisfail uses about 10 to 15 cubic metres (10,000 to 15,000 litres) of water a month. But the Moore water meter was showing the couple using about 20 cubic metres a day.
The chart on their water bill shows normal water usage between June 16 and June 21, ranging between 200 to 500 litres daily. Then, suddenly it takes a dramatic climb each of eight days between June 22 and June 29, to about 20,000 litres per day. And then — sort of like the 1997 movie Contact, where the radio transmissions from intelligent aliens start and stop — the usage numbers from the water meter return to normal.
“There is no way that we can put that much water through in six days or eight days or whatever,” says Betty.
The Moores have a ‘smart meter’ at their home, installed by the town about two years ago. It emits a radio signal that is be read electronically as a meter person drives by.
The town replaced all meters, some as old as 60 years, with new ones. Staff can now read 3,000 meters in three hours. Gone are the days when the meter man went door to door, looking at and reading each meter.
“I don’t have a pool, I don’t have a garden, didn’t water the lawn. I had eight plants out front that I watered. Other than that, we lived the same as we usually do,” says Betty, baffled by the huge water usage increase.
She called the town, of course, and the town sent someone to check the meter. She was told the meter was working fine and there was nothing to be done except pay the bill. It must be a running tap or toilet, she was told.
But Betty is adamant there were no plumbing problems in their home, no running toilets for example, and they didn’t “turn on the outside tap to fill the lagoon across the tracks.” Just the two of them live in the house.
She was also told that if she wanted to fight it, she could go to court.
“If I had some money I would,” she said Tuesday morning when I talked to her.
Her latest water bill stated she needed to pay up the full statement or the water would be shut off. It’s an automatic message whenever a bill is not fully paid.
Is she going to be able to pay it?
Just after I talked to Betty, and then tried to talk to someone from the town about the matter, she got a call from Heather Whymark, Town of Innisfail’s director of corporate services.
Whymark then called me to say the town was going to replace the water meter and run tests for the next month on the current water meter.
So they do fail sometimes.
“Oh yeah. There’s no water meter that’s 100 per cent,” Whymark said. “They have their flaws just like any other mechanically inclined equipment…. The percentages are very very very low … just like a car once in a while you’ll get one, drive it off the lot and it’s a lemon.”
“Due diligence on our part is to put a brand new water in there (next week) and run the testing (on the old meter).”
If the town determines that the Moores have to pay the $760 bill in full, “we give them time to pay, we put them on a payment plan without penalties … until they can get it paid up because there are times when that does happen. That toilet can be running downstairs where they don’t hear them and the water runs through and it adds up,” says Whymark.
Betty remains adamant there was no problem.
However, Whymark told Betty, “There’s something that’s not making sense because your two bills after were proper (about $84). So I’m inclined to think I’ve got a meter problem. That is my inclination. That’s why I’m going to take it out and test it.”
After 10 years of experience with these sorts of problems, “I’m probably going to get told that I’ve got a faulty meter,” Whymark said.
And if it is, the town will only bill the Moores what they pay on average each month.
“I think (Betty) felt she wasn’t getting the answers she was looking for. … Unfortunately I’ve been away. … It just crossed my desk (Monday) afternoon so I called her back first thing this morning, so I will work with Betty. I would have the same problem if I got a $700 water bill.”
Will the Moores have their water shut off?
“Nope, not till we get this sorted out,” says Whymark.