Minto flooded with calls about water bills

Many local residents are finding a lot of their money is going down the drain, after receiving their first bills under the town’s new metered water system.

CAO Bill White advised Minto council on Sept. 15 the town office has received about eight calls a day since water bills for the July/August period came out in Harriston recently.

Water foreman Wayne Metzger and pubic works director Brian Hansen provided a presentation of a pamphlet being mailed to all residents to help them get a handle on the situation. The information is also available on the town’s website.

The water meter awareness report provides extreme examples of bills racked up by customers since the user-pay system began, including:

– one customer had a leaky toilet and ended up with a bill of $786 for two months;

– another customer who filled a swimming pool and had a problem with a water softener received a bi-monthly bill for $403;

– simply filling a swimming pool was enough to boost another customer’s bill to $506 for two months; and

–  a regularly-flushing urinal system was costing another customer $702 bi-monthly for urinals alone.

The report lists several potential causes for high water bills, including:

– leaky toilets – a continuously running toilet can waste up to 757 litres a day;

– dripping faucet – a faucet drip can waste 75 litres a day or more;

– filling or topping up a swimming pool;

– watering a lawn, new grass, or trees;

– kids at home for summer vacation or guests;

– water softener issues; and

– outside tap or garden hose.

The report also provides advice and instructions to help residents determine from where leaks may be coming. Prior to the implementation of metered billing the town had been monitoring usage and notifying customers of leaks or potential problems in their systems.

In the case of the customer with the $800 leaking toilet, Metzger said, “that’s where it’s too bad … in this case he had a leak letter, he didn’t take the time, the effort, to go fix it until all of a sudden he saw what the impact was.”

Metzger said town staff have been going to homes to investigate in response to some calls, but in most cases are simply advising customers how to read their meters and check for problems on their own.

However, he cautions, “Even though you do check it, that’s a moment in time  … it might take multiple checks to try to hit something.”

Quite a few of the problems, he noted, are caused by water softeners, which are not shutting completely off and continue to use a trickle of water after completing a cycle.

Metzger explained even if a customer receives a notice indicating a leak, the problem might not be a physical issue.

The meters collect data over  15 minute intervals, a total of 96 times daily; if on 50 or more of those occasions water use is detected, a “leak letter” is generated.

“A lot of it may not necessarily be a leak. It might be lifestyle, where there’s a lot of people in the house and they stay up late and get up early or whatever,” said Metzger.

Under the previous system, residential users paid a flat rate water and wastewater charge of $212 for two months.

Metzger said it’s difficult to say what a typical bill should be under the new system.

A two-person household might pay less than $130 for two months, while for a home with a four or five people, charges of around $300 “might not be out of line.”