Fountain Hills residents are pulling together through a Facebook petition to demand that EPCOR Water investigate “unexplained” increases in water bills for Chaparral City Water Company customers.
The petition addressed to Shawn Bradford, director of operations for EPCOR, states in part, “While we are aware there was a 22 (percent) rate increase from Chaparral Water Company to Fountain Hills residents, there has been a substantially higher increase seen on consumers’ water bills. We would like EPCOR to investigate this substantial increase to Fountain Hills…customers’ water bills including the unexplained increase in usage.”
The petition from organizer Loreley Hall states, “There are over 40 households in Fountain Hills that have had an increase in their water bills up to 150 percent or even more.
“When contacting (CCWC) individually to inquire as to the substantial increase the only explanations you receive are ‘people use more water in the summer’ and ‘there must be a leak.’ It would be impossible for over 40 households to have a leak simultaneously.”
EPCOR officials said individual inquiries or complaints are investigated on a case-by-case basis and there is no specific explanation for the broad complaints alleged on the petition.
A comment from another petition signer said they had their water meter changed out last summer and that resulted in an increase.
“We had a huge surge in our alleged usage that was way out of line from years of history and records,” the post states.
“EPCOR couldn’t explain why, but speculated it was leakage or a fault in our prior meter.
“We checked for leakage and there was none. EPCOR could not substantiate any problem with our prior meter. We had years of consistent prior billing history that evidenced no meter problems.
“As far as EPCOR knows our prior history was consistent with our service…and it never during the prior years said otherwise.
“Our prior billing history dates back to 1997. EPCOR is without evidence other than its new meters do not function consistent with prior years of history -- indicating the problem is with EPCOR and not its customers.”
For its part EPCOR acknowledges that new meters may register more water usage than new ones.
However, according to EPCOR spokeswoman Rebecca Stenholm, that’s because older meters have a tendency to under record water flow.
EPCOR officials say the difference is not often significant.
“Meters are read every month, and if it is unusually high we will verify the reading before the bill goes out,” Stenholm said.
CCWC offices on Panorama Drive have a shop with sophisticated meter testing equipment, which they use anytime a customer asks for a meter test (see separate story).
The procedure has the old meter removed and replaced with a new one. The old one is tested to see whether it meets standard tolerances established by the American Water Works Association and the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Even if the meter passes the test it is not put back into service. If it passes the test the customer is charged $35, per ACC-approved rate tariffs.
There is no testing charge if the meter is incorrect.
Fountain Hills resident Lina Bellenir has had ongoing issues regarding her water meter readings for a couple of years.
She filed individually as an intervener in the recent rate case before the ACC.
“Upon filing as an intervener our water bill mysteriously went down,” Bellenir told The Times. “I do not believe in conspiracies, however, our bill went down to between $40 and $50, then it slowly started to creep up, and it just took a big jump once the ACC made their finding.
“Our last two bills were $160 and $123, still very substantial for just two people.”
During those recent ACC rate hearings another Fountain Hills resident commented to the commission that he had received a $115 water bill for just 15 days of service.
He said that he and his wife had cut back drastically on their water usage, but feared they might be forced to move out of Fountain Hills due to the high water bills.
Mayor Linda Kavanagh intervened on behalf of that customer with EPCOR customer service manager Jeffery Stuck.
Stuck declined to comment on the specific case, but noted it is being reviewed through the standard process, as is done with all cases.
That process is, in fact, outlined very specifically in the “Best Management Practices” section of the ACC’s approved tariffs for EPCOR.
The requirements for customer service complaints call for a “full and prompt investigation,” with the company responding to the complainant and/or the commission representative within five working days.
The final disposition of any complaints is to be reported in writing to the customer or commission on its request.
The customer is also to be informed of their right to appeal to the commission if they find the results of the investigation unsatisfactory.
Customers are to be assisted with their high water usage complaints or inquiries with a service representative trained on the typical causes of high water consumption as well as leak detection procedures.
This process is to be done upon the request of the customer or if the company feels it is warranted. EPCOR does not provide specific leak detection services.
“The company shall follow up on every customer inquiry or complaint and keep a record of inquiries and follow-up activities,” the ACC has instructed CCWC.
“The company shall make this information available to the commission upon request.”
EPCOR also monitors customer usage and notifies customers if there is an unusual increase in usage. Stuck said field personnel will make contact in person, and if no one is home, there will be a door-hanger left with information and follow-up instructions.
“The company shall assist the customer in determining what might be causing the high water usage as well as offer the customer information regarding water conservation and landscape watering guidelines,” the ACC decision states.
“The company shall confirm the accuracy of the customer meter if requested to do so by the customer (fees apply if applicable).”
Jame French, director of customer operations for EPCOR, said the company offers customers a free audit kit to help them determine the efficiency of their water use.
They also have available free low-flow devices such as shower heads and faucets if the home qualifies.
“We take every single call seriously,” French said. “We are concerned that customer use is accurately monitored.”