“there’s no way we used nearly 75,000 gallons of water in a month”

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Advice for Plaintiffs in DC Water Hearing?

“My roommates and I are disputing a bill with DC Water and headed to a hearing with them this month. Our usage has consistently been beneath 10-15 CCFs for more than a year and then one month randomly spiked at 99 CCFs(!). We figured this must have been an error by DC Water’s metering system or something and are prepared to explain that there’s no way we used nearly 75,000 gallons of water in a month.

Does anyone have any suggestions for arguments that work best with DC Water? We’re not lawyers and don’t have one and want to make sure we make our case as clearly and effectively as possible.”

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39 Comment

  • Quite possible you had a runny toilet or a leaky faucet — A running toilet can use more than 4,000 gallons of water per day…

    • that figure is high – a continuously running toilet wastes about 200 gallons per day – still not insignificant. if you’re wasting 4,000 gallons per day, then there’s a busted pipe somewhere… and it probably shouldn’t go unnoticed.

      • A continuously running toilet, flapper open, uses 100+ gallons per HOUR. I had a roommate who didn’t ever hear her toilet running–until I showed her the water bill, which showed spikes of 1500 gallons a day solely from leaving it running overnight. If one of OP’s roommates left the handle depressed and running for the better part of a month, and no one else in the house has ears for running water (no one else in my house could, because I paid the bill), it really could use 75,000 gallons.

      • High? I don’t think so. Your typical low flow toilet (1.6 gallons) refils the tank in a minute or less.

        1.6 gallons per minute is 96 gallons an hour, 2300 gallons per day or 69,000 gallons per month.

        A leaky toilet can easily go through that much water in a month.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I don’t typically use “leaky” interchangeably with “running continuously.”
          “Leaky” is when the flapper not quite seal the flush valve properly. In this scenario, the toilet might make some annoying sounds, either intermittently or continuously, but would still operate normally in terms of flushing. Leaking a couple of tanks worth of water (3-5 gallons) per hour would be a really bad leak.
          If you’re “leaking” at the max possible fill rate, about a flush-worth per minute, that’s basically running continuously, not just “leaking.” This is what would happen if the flapper is stuck wide open, or if you forgot to install the flapper at all, or if you were trying to ferret out the source of the leak, took the flapper out to inspect it, and forgot to reinstall the flapper. The tank would not even fill, and the toilet would usually or always fail to flush properly.
          To put it bluntly, it is plausible that somebody might have a toilet leaking 5 gallons of water per hour, or about 3600 gallons per month, and not know it. Somebody would have to be deaf, blind, and of well-below-average intelligence to have a toilet leaking 96 gallons per hour (69,000 gallons per month) and not know it. If you can flush all of your toilets normally and do not hear water rushing through your pipes at all times, “leaky toilet” is not a plausible explanation for allegedly using 75000 gallons of water in a month.

    • To OP: If you’re interested, we’d be happy to provide you with additional data to help you track down the source of your leak or frankly, help you spot an inconsistency in our data. We’d like to be as transparent as possible because I’m sure this has been a frustrating experience.

      Digital Comms Person
      ale @ dcwater.com

  • I asked this question in a RRR but I’ll repost it here: is anyone else getting weird spikes in the AMR data? Like one day when we were on vacation the usage jumped up for that day only, which doesn’t make sense.

    • We literally just had this happen! My husband was out of town, so I was at the house for a week and a half alone, then no one was in the house for 2 weeks….and our bill was the highest it has been since we moved in a year ago. This includes several periods where we had people in town and had 5 adults showering, toileting, dishwashering, etc. for a week.

      I called them and they said that the bill was estimated and they were going to have someone come out and do a physical reading. That was Monday, so I plan to call and follow up. FYI: they said that if the usage is higher than their estimate that they won’t charge me anymore, but if the usage is lower, they will adjust down. If it’s a stupid amount of money, give them a call and have them come out.

      • “they said that if the usage is higher than their estimate that they won’t charge me anymore”
        Well, they will charge you for what you’ve used, just not payable immediately? Presumably it will just show up in your next bill.

      • SouthwestDC

        Weird, why would they be using estimates if the readings are transmitted automatically? Was the system down or something?

        • Each meter has a radio transmitter on it and those break frequently. We had to get our meter replaced after repeated attempts by DC Water to fix the transmitter.

  • Have a contractor or other professional take a look at the meter and also open up what’s called the “pit” in front of your house. Something similar happened to me and the meter was submerged in the pit. It’s not supposed to be that way. And, dc water is very, very loathe to acknowledge this. Good luck.

  • Was your bill being estimated before this? Because if you had a leaky/running toilet for that long it could add up to that much water over a year.

  • Are the readings from the previous months real readings as opposed to estimates? I worked at a hotel where they simply did not read the meter for a long time (like over a year) and just billed an estimated amount instead. Eventually when they did a real read on that meter there was a HUGE catch up bill. I’m not sure if that same situation happens with residential properties.

    • We had that with our Pepco bill a few years back. SUCKED.

    • phl2dc

      That sucks! They charge the difference then, right? Since you paid an estimated amount every month already?

    • I’m dealing with this right now with DC water. My bills were based on estimate from December 2014-August 2015, when they did an actual read. My catch-up bill this month is almost $150.

  • Have you asked them to do an audit and make sure that the line is not broken before the water enters your home or apartment? I believe DC Water is responsible for the pipe for up to 14 feet after the curb.

    • DC Water is responsible for the portion of the service line on public property, you are responsible for the portion on private property.

    • It’s unlikely the break is in that segment of the line, but definitely ask them to come out and check the meter pit to verify it’s working properly and do a manual reading. While they are out there they may have a look around elsewhere. Somebody on our block had an issue with extremely high reported usage, and it turned out that DCWater had a 10x multiplier on their account. Somebody literally misplaced a decimal point. Took them half a year to figure that out.

  • We had the same thing happen this summer – our water was metered at 4X our maximum ever in 9 years. I looked at that several times… and I know it’s an error. We do not have anything leaking and we were not watering the yard. Even if we were, that’s happened before and this was several times our MAXIMUM ever before. Then back to normal.

    What did I do? I thought about the hassle versus the cost and I paid it. I’m weak.

  • Roommate of this house chiming in here –
    We had an actual reading 2 months prior to the spiked month so this wasn’t an issue of reconciling water usage based off an estimate. We’ve gotten chatter from dealing with DC Water that they’ve acknowledged the meter needs to be replaced but they’re cryptic about what that means or for our reading or if they’ll ever do it. We had a few construction projects on the street where they turned off our water, and I tried to contact their FOIA officer to get any info on those projects as possible sources for the wasted water but I did not get any meaningful feedback.
    Thanks for any input you’ve got.

    • This happened to me as well, in July 2014 and again (to a lesser degree) in January 2015. The DC Water customer reps are apparently trained to suggest that it’s a running toilet, but one of the reps conceded that the July 2014 usage was basically an industrial-level spike over a couple of days and could not be attributed solely to a running toilet. Both incidents occurred when I was out of town. I paid the bills, but since then I’ve monitored my usage on the DC Water website without a recurrence. Be sure to check your daily usage for the month in question to determine whether your spike was the result of continuous high usage or an extraordinarily high spike over a day or two (which may be far more than a toilet would ever cause). If it’s the latter, based on other reports I’ve seen here, there may be something rotten in Denmark with DC Water’s metering system, but they are certainly not acknowledging any problem.

      By the way, according to DC Water you are entitled to one inspection of your water system without charge, so you may want to take advantage of that regardless of how your hearing resolves. Good luck.

  • It would be a surprise if DC Water gets their water metering right. That would be about the only thing they get right. Last night they turned off Red Hen’s water without notice and their are currently screwing up Bloomingdale to get bigger pipes in the ground to support McMillan. It’s a racket and sows what monopolies lead to.

    • Accountering

      No, it wouldn’t be a surprise if their metering is correct. They meter for thousands of customers, and the VAST majority of them are correct every month.
      Regarding the bit about monopolies… How do you propose we do it? I don’t think there are other companies lining up to lay pipe all throughout the city and compete with DC Water. The infrastructure necessary to compete on something like WATER is 100% cost prohibitive. A locally regulated utility (like DC Water) is the only solution, and DC Water does a very good job in my book.

  • Our neighbors had the same issue – it turned out to be a problem with the meter configuration, which they only found out after multiple visits by DC Water to check the meter after much push-back from said neighbors. Ask DC water to come out and make sure your meter is properly calibrated!

  • We had something similar that turned out to be a leak just at the spot where the city link connects to the line buried in our front yard. It was a big, expensive repair that involved digging a trench in the front yard. If you are in a house, has the owner ever had the original lead service line replaced?

  • Earlier in this year, I had a series of strange events, which I began to notice after I came home once to find that the hot water pipe to our addition had burst (the solder joint failed), spewing water full bore for a few hours. Our water bill wasn’t particularly high for that time period, and I noticed that we weren’t getting the day-to-day AMR usage stats on our online account that we’re supposed to get. And we hadn’t been getting the day-to-day stats going all the way back for several years. So something was wrong with our meter, or with the AMR part of it. Then I noticed a few bills were EST instead of ACTUAL. Then in April I got an anomalously high bill (14 CCF), which claimed to be an ACTUAL reading. Then the next month I got a $10 bill which was another ACTUAL measurement but covering a 4-month period between meter readings and paying the whole bill through the credit I had paid the previous month. Then in August they installed a new meter, and finally the AMR works.

  • Unfortunately, no good news here… We went through this same issue with DC Water about 1.5 years ago. We played everything by the books, including doing two audits, requesting a new meter, and getting a plumber to look the house. We went to the hearing, and were told that we had a leaky toilet that fixed itself… We did not win the case, it lasted for almost 9 months and was the most expensive utility bill we’ve ever paid. Good luck…

  • WE had the same issue 3 years ago…fought it lost and paid $900 for a bill.
    My husband was in a hospital bed and there was NO WAY we had that usage.

    We had the Water Dept come and they said no major leaks MAYBE a slight leak in one toilet but not noticeable.

    I think DC has a racket on this front…fight it, make them prove where the leak is…make them replace the water meter, as a matter of fact get all your friends to get them to replace the water meter.

    Did the charge happen to be in the summer when folks away.

    good luck
    The Adm judge who heard our hearing was hired by the Water department. CRAZY, CRAZY

  • Well well well. I have some very bad news for you about WASA. I have been going back and fourth with WASA for years. In 2005 I discovered I had a water leak. I called WASA and they brought an entire crew out and dug up my front yard with a Backhoe. They concluded that the leak was on my side of the pipe. That is it was beyond the water meter in my front yard. Instead of simply showing me how to turn off the water from the street, they let it leak. I went for 2yrs without water!!!!!!!!!!!!! The final bill to WASA $6,700.
    In another incident I asked WASA how could my bill go from 0 to $118.00 in a single day? They said that’s what the meter reads. I had to pay them.
    Beware of WASA. They have a practice of ESTIMATING YOUR MONTHLY USAGE. As opposed to actually reading the meter. WASA is DC government. So they may place a lien on your house if you don’t pay up.They also charge interest on unpaid balances.
    You should ask WASA the following:
    When was the meter read and by whom?
    When was the meter calibrated?
    How can you tell it’s accurate? Please prove it.
    Is it working correctly?
    Also ask others in your block about similar experiences.

    Good luck


  • This happened to us last year. Small 2 bed house in Shaw. They reckoned we’d used about 55,000 gallons one month. I called and the operator checked their systems and confirmed that it showed 55,000 gallons. He agreed that that didn’t seem right as I think our usual was about 200 gallons. He did some more checking and after about 5 minutes he came back on the phone line and said it had been a computer glitch. He apologized and that was the end of it.

  • I had a spike in my water bill for a couple months and when i called they said it looked like a toilet running. I changed all the flappers in all my toilets and the water bill went right back down. For what its worth I never could hear a toilet running even after looking for it. The only confirmation i got that i had fixed the problem was the lower bill after changing the flappers.

  • We have had exactly the same issue. It is criminal.

  • Can a homeowner monitor their own water meter readings on a daily or weekly basis? If my system sprang a leak, I would hate for it to run for weeks before finding out from WASA in a monthly statement.

    • Not sure about visual readings, but you can log in and set a “high water usage” alarm that will send an email.

      I set in my last rental, after moving out I got an alert. My brother and I used a normal amount of water, but the 3 guys who moved in hit my high water limit DAY ONE! In the first month they used as much water as both of us, all of our house guests, overnight guests, and friends doing their laundry at our place FOR A YEAR!

      • Follow up. Looks like DC water signs you up for high water usage email notification if you register your account electronically (to pay bills, check usage, etc.) BUT “we’ll let you know when your water usage is 6 times the annual usage for four consecutive days” I assume that this means alert after 6 times the usage for that day based on your typical usage and not that the single day needs to be 6 times annual usage…
        I’d like it be “programmable” I had a leaky toilet that I didn’t know about and I used 25% more water for the month. Sooo, it pays to review your usage monthly.


  • One way to see if your house is the source of the leak. Turn off the water where it comes into the house, this should be AFTER the meter, and is usually where the water line comes into the house. If the meter is still running you have a leak outside of the house. To determine if it is you or DC Water, the water would have to be turned off at the curb box which is the little lid outside of your house. DC Water is responsible from everything after that curb box, it is not always on a property line, and there isn’t a set footage from a building. DC Water is very sneaky, when it comes to these things, not any different than anyone else’s water company. It is never their fault.

  • Sorry to be a buzz kill – but guess what, the hearing officer at DC water hearings is paid for by DC Water – so, who do you think will win? But check this – the electronics at the meter I think can mal-function. DC water will not admit it. But, we had high water usage – called DC they came out and checked the meter (in the sidewalk) – voila, the water usage went back to normal and we didn’t make any repairs. So, check the water records at the DC water website for your address – ours were sporadic – lots of water some time and little at other times – and the bills escalated more and more over 4 months, It was just odd that the usage went to normal the day the came out and nothing was repaired. let us know what happens. We requested a hearing had to have 2 because the person who made the visit to our home didn’t come to the first hearing – and we lost anyway – you need to try – but it was a waste of time.

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