BCWA customers surprised as bills skyrocket due to glitch

Estimates of resident water usage appear to be way off, lead to sky-high water bills

By Ted Hayes
Posted 12/3/19

Jacqueline Waterman said she literally had a panic attack when she opened her dad’s bill water bill last week.

Ms. Waterman, who lives in Maine but has power of attorney for her father, an …

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BCWA customers surprised as bills skyrocket due to glitch

Estimates of resident water usage appear to be way off, lead to sky-high water bills

Posted

Jacqueline Waterman said she literally had a panic attack when she opened her dad’s water bill last week.

Ms. Waterman, who lives in Maine but has power of attorney for her father, an 87-year-old Barrington resident, said her dad’s quarterly bill from the Bristol County Water Authority was $500 — more than double what he paid three months ago. And over the past three months, the bill noted that he’d used 37,402 gallons of water.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said Monday. “There is no way he used that much water. And his bill randomly went from $200 to $500.”

Ms. Waterman is one of dozens or more Warren, Barrington and Bristol residents who have complained this week about wild inaccuracies on their most recent bills.

Pam Marchand, the BCWA’s executive director, acknowledged receiving “dozens” of calls from ratepayers whose bills jumped 100 or 200 percent over their past bills, with no change in water usage on their end.

“We seem to be getting a lot of calls this morning,” she said Monday. “A lot more than I thought.”

However, she said BCWA officials are aware of the issue, and pledged that nobody will end up paying more than they actually owe.

The problem stems from the BCWA’s ongoing work to update its aging water meters. The authority’s old meters, which were read manually, are being replaced by meters that wirelessly transmit water usage information directly to BCWA vehicles passing in the street. While most of the BCWA’s 17,000 new meters have been installed, about 10 percent have not. And it’s some of those customers who received the inaccurate bills, Ms. Marchand said.

The reason is that BCWA workers are no longer visually checking those old meters, and instead are using a program to estimate those customers’ water usage. Obviously, she said, those residents who saw larger than expected bills either have a significant water leak in their homes, or the estimate was inaccurate.

Residents who have been affected have several choices, she said. First, they can contact the authority and ask that a meter reading be taken. Once accurate water usage information is logged, the BCWA would either correct the bill or, if if has already been paid, offer “a return,” she said.

If residents opt not to schedule a special meter reading visit, all old meters will be read when the last of the new wireless meters are replaced. Ms. Marchand estimated that that will be completed over the next two months.

“Everybody will get done,” she said, referring to an accurate accounting of their actual, not estimated, usage.

You can contact the BCWA at 401-245-2022.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.