In September, after months of fighting the City of Lacombe, Brookes Wallace paid a $1,028 water bill she is certain was based on a mistake. Then, she sold her property in the city, vowing to never pay another cent to the municipality.
Tests done on Wallace’s water meter that recorded 364 cubic metres of water — enough to fill a decent-sized swimming pool — used last February had found the meter to be acceptably accurate.
After the tests, and despite Wallace’s protestations, the city maintained that the meter reading was accurate, and told her she should pay the bill promptly.
She had a plumber inspect the property in question, which Wallace rented out to two tenants, and he found no leaks.
She demonstrated that her water bills returned to normal after a new meter was installed, but that did not sway the powers that be either.
So, eventually, she capitulated.
After she had paid the bill and sold the home, though, there was another hope.
Sid Morris, an Alix-area senior, had been saved from having to pay a $3,800 gas bill last year after a Measurement Canada investigation found that his gas meter was defective, with it possible that the digits on his meter “freewheeled,” running far higher than they should have.
The federal agency with a mandate to inspect meters and investigate consumer complaints got possession of Wallace’s meter in October. It ran tests on the meter, and initial results found that the register was working properly. But, in its report issued in January, it said that further tests showed it is possible that a faulty interlocking odometer could have caused “freewheeling.”
The report said that despite the fault, through testing it could not definitely say whether a meter error caused the 12-fold consumption jump recorded. It closed off the report by saying the file is closed and that it would do no further investigation.
Wallace read the report and contacted the city again, hoping that the potential for a meter error would get her a refund for what she had already paid. But the city interpreted the letter to read that Measurement Canada was satisfied with the meter’s accuracy, and said it would not adjust the bill as doing so would spread out the bill cost to other taxpayers.
On Friday, an exasperated Wallace said she feels like she has wasted her time “banging her head against a wall” for the last year, and she does not plan to fight the charge anymore.
“I have tried. I have thousands of pages of emails. Every avenue has been researched — nothing,” she said.
“There’s nothing I haven’t tried. Everyone has come back and said they can’t help in this, they don’t have jurisdiction.”
That includes Measurement Canada, which actually is not mandated under federal legislation to regulate water meters. Such devices are specially exempt, along with parking meters and coin-operated weigh scales.
The City of Lacombe has put the meter matter to bed, but does plan to change out all water meters in the city over the next four years. It says the changes are not predicated on Wallace’s situation.
While the meters themselves will barely change, the new devices will have antennas on them, allowing readers to get numbers from the meters using radio waves, rather than having to go inspect the numbers up close.
The city’s utilities and fleet manager said as part of the new system, information will be stored for each meter in the city.
“The new system we’re installing, if a resident called up, we could produce graphs for the last 90 days of water use. We can show if there’s strange use, or no use,” said Chris Huston.
He said that ability to check for blips won’t likely eliminate disputes like Wallace’s, but could lessen their occurrence.