Few customers who apply for high water bill adjustment receive one

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As temperatures continue to soar, a policy aimed to protect your pocketbook is being put to the test. After thousands of high water bill complaints, city council passed a resolution in April to help provide future relief. It’s a one-time forgiveness of sorts, for customers who qualify.

“There were thousands and thousands of people who reached out last year who saw incredible sticker shock. Whether it was from higher water usage than they thought or whether it was from a leak or whether it was from an unexplained spike where maybe they were out of town, maybe they don’t have a sprinkler system, but they saw a huge increase in their water usage on their bill that neither the customer or Austin Energy were able to explain,” Council Member Ellen Troxclair said.

High water bill adjustment infographic

It was the unknowns that motivated Troxclair to shift the water usage burden of proof from the customer to the utility, supporting a water bill adjustment program for eligible customers who have three time the expected volume. Two months in, KXAN wanted to see how the program’s working.

Through a public records request, we learned 48 people applied for a high water bill adjustment in June. Of those customers, only 11 were eligible. One customer declined the adjustment and opted to go through the administrative hearing process instead. In July, just four people received an adjustment of the 13 people who applied. The utility credited customers $2,322.71 in June and $532.51 in July.

“I think that it proves that there was a policy change that needed to be made and there was this safety net that was necessary in order to provide customers with that level of assurance, that their bills were accurate and that they weren’t overpaying for water,” Troxclair said when KXAN showed her the numbers.

Austin Energy says it’s had to disqualify customers for the adjustment for a variety of reasons, including usage being less than three times the normal volume, customers at a service address for less than a year, and/or high usage due to a leak or a violation of water conservation rules.

Austin Energy’s Robert Cullick says it’s too soon for the utility to really comment on the new bill adjustment program.

“High usage is really going to peak in August and maybe September. So I think it’s too early to talk about trends or generalizations” he said.

Last week, city leaders warned council members water usage in July was up 8 percent compared to the same time last year and to brace for high bill complaints.

For information on what to do if you get a high water bill or to see if your’e eligible for an adjustment, visit the Austin Water website. 

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