Water meter mystery baffles city of Sweet Springs

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Water bills across Sweet Springs were on the rise, and the cause is uncertain.

Public Works personnel reported performing an estimated 150 re-reads on customers' water meters in August due to the unusually high readings. At a special meeting of the Board of Aldermen Monday, Aug. 29, one business reported its water consumption total for the month of August was billed at 8,680 cubic feet, up from the 380 cubic feet used the month before, causing a $970 water bill compared to $54.48 in July. One cubic foot of water translates to 7.481 gallons. Later examination of that meter showed there was no leak causing the high reading. According to city personnel, that was not even the most extreme case reported.

The re-readings supported the initial readings, leaving the city to ponder the cause for the widespread increases, some of which, like the example presented, were seemingly not possible.

"They're not the only example," Alderman Boyd Jones said. "If they were the only example, then obviously there's some water leaking or something, which apparently it isn't. ... I think there's a connection between yours and all these other high bills too. I don't think that's just a coincidence. ...The only explanation is something happened, or everyone used a lot more water, which seems really hard to imagine, certainly in the context of 20 times more."

Due to equipment failure, the city's water bills previously had to be estimated for one month, in June. Public Works Superintendent Nathan Lea said the cause of the high August bills could not have been a failure of the meter because if the meter fails it will err on the side of the customer and read zero water usage.

"If the meter moves, water went through it," Lea said. "Where it went is beyond me. ... To be blunt, the numbers are the numbers. I mean, the water went somewhere or it wouldn't have moved. I mean, it's unfortunate, because there is a lot of high bills, but we've been back and we've read them, and we've read them."

Lea said the city as a whole typically uses 130,000 gallons of water per day.

"There for about two-three weeks, we were running about 160-165 (thousand gallons) a day," he said. "We fixed a couple of leaks during that time, and then that went down to about 125 (thousand gallons), and we've been running between 125-130 since. So, there was a three-week period or so that we had about 35,000 extra gallons a day."

Lea assured the aldermen that any water main leaks would not affect the metering of any individual customers.

On a motion from Jones, seconded by Alderman Larry Looney, the board chose to allow those customers with an abnormally high water bill for the month of August to pay for just their typical usage rate without being considered delinquent on the rest of the charges at this time. That decision will be in effect until the cause of the high readings can be investigated.

Contact Arron Hustead at ahustead@marshallnews.com

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