Residents question high water bills

Some Cedar Park residents said they have been noticing significantly higher water bills than in previous months and have questioned public officials about it via phone calls and social media posts.

In response to resident concerns, city officials said they conducted a water utility study and found several factors contributed to the higher bills.

For example, record rains in late spring postponed an expected annual increase in residents’ water use, Assistant City Manager Sam Roberts said.

Similar water bill spikes have been reported in Austin, Round Rock and Pflugerville, prompting city officials to collaborate about responses, Assistant City Manager Katherine Caffrey said.

During its Sept. 17 meeting, Cedar Park City Council passed a 45-day moratorium on water utility shutoffs. On Oct. 8, City Council approved hiring another firm to perform an audit of the utility system.

Residents question high water billsPossible explanations

City staffers said water demand in Cedar Park nearly doubled between June and August. In June about 7 percent of residents used more than 15,000 gallons, but in August over 40 percent of residents used more than 15,000 gallons per month, which places residents in the highest water rate tier.

Roberts said the city’s investigation in September included inspection of city water plant production—which treats and releases water based on residents’ demand—as well as reviews of meter accuracy and billing software.

Meter-reading tests showed accuracy rates of 97 percent, he said.

Council members said residents may be using more water.

Place 1 Council Member Stephen Thomas said some residents may have become accustomed to lower bills for lower usage and water rates, then surprised by a bill based on a higher rate of 15,001 gallons or more per month.

Resident David Shelor said his August bill was five times higher than his usual monthly bill. After he called the city, utility workers replaced his meter with a test device. Shelor said he then made measurements that led him to find a leak in his garden hose. He said he also determined that his outdoor faucet had been left on for several days.

“Replacing the hose resulted in 30 percent less water used,” he said.

Efficient outdoor watering will help lower bills, said Sean Radabagh, owner of Southern Landscape Solutions.

For example, instead of watering outdoors for 45 minutes at once, residents should run their sprinklers three times at 15 minutes each time, letting the ground absorb water, Radabagh said.

But resident Shaimaa King said she did not increase outdoor watering and still received a higher bill than she received in August 2014.

“My first high bill in August was $158.52,” King said. “[But] I did not even water the yard.”

Place 3 Council Member Lyle Grimes said city staffers are able to drive through neighborhoods and automatically read meters by radio. Roberts added he hopes the city will explore an upgraded system that allows real-time monitoring of customers’ water usage.

Caffrey said the city plans to redesign the utility bill format later this year.

“It is not the easiest-to-read document,” Caffrey said.