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Some Austin Water customers to get refund for high bills

After receiving more than 1,000 phone calls over the past few weeks from customers shocked by their high water bills the director of Austin Water said they are investigating.
Balance due for an Austin Water customer.

AUSTIN -- After receiving more than 1,000 phone calls over the past few weeks from customers shocked by their high water bills, the director of Austin Water spoke before the Public Utility Commission Wednesday and said they are investigating.

Multiple people from across Austin brought their bills to show the commissioners before the director could speak.

"We've never had that kind of usage. I should be swimming, we should all have a pool party except I don't have a pool," said Keith Hutchison, who owns a home in northeast Austin. He said he has been paying Austin Water Utility bills for more than a decade and has always averaged 5,000-6,000 gallons a month.

However, his bill last month records his usage at close to 24,000 gallons. According to Hutchison, Austin Water Utility claims he used enough water in August to fill a pool measuring 15 feet by 30 feet wide and 7 feet deep.

The shock over his bill was echoed by multiple homeowners on Wednesday before the commissioners.

"It felt awful to get this month's bill and look at the charges," said a South Austin homeowner.

Another homeowner told commissioners, "Us using this water is out of the question, there's no way we could use that much water."

Austin Water Utility's director said they have increased overtime for employees to take all the customer calls.

They are checking people's meters to make sure the reading is accurate, and then they speak to each customer about their usage, like irrigation, sprinklers, pools and possible leaks.

Finally they will order a re-read of a customer meter, and if it doesn't match up or they cannot explain the astronomically high bill they will adjust the bill if appropriate.

"At the end of the day, after a thorough investigation, if an adjustment needs to be made an adjustment will be made," said Austin Water spokesperson Jason Hill.

Hill could not specify how many customers have received an adjustment or refund so far.

The Austin Water Utility director told commissioners their billing system is 98 percent accurate but they are still looking into the matter. He also said heavy rains followed by a drought may explain the spike in usage.

Austin's assistant city manager said the city is looking into a third-party audit for Austin Water Utility.

If you have an issue with your billing, Austin Water Utility asks people call 512-494-9400 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or e-mail tomyaccount@coautilities.com. Go here to visit Austin Water's website.