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Water Bill Investigation: Are smart meters to blame for skyrocketing rates?

There is still no explanation behind skyrocketing water bills across the City of San Diego.

SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) – There is still no explanation behind skyrocketing water bills across the City of San Diego.

Since News 8’s “Your Stories” investigation first aired last month, city officials have requested an audit of the Public Utilities Department – which also launched its own probe into the issue – but some residents believe the new “smart meters” might be to blame.

Jim Narvaez replaced his water guzzling lawn with artificial grass – so imagine his surprise when his water bill went up.

“With the cutback on the usage, you would not expect it to go up 20 to 30 percent and that seems to be about where it is,” he said.

Around the same time Jim replaced his lawn, the Ramona Municipal Water District switched his meter to a smart meter. “There has been a lot of problems with smart water meters.”

Susan Brinchman lives a few blocks from Jim. She has been researching smart meters for years, and has come to realize, they are not so smart.

“The meter fails because it’s out in the weather. It’s worked for a while, then it fails because of heat, the cold or water gets inside,” she said.

Susan is definitely on to something. Several smart water meters that were not properly installed in one East Coast city led to much higher bills because the meter was reading more water then what was actually being used.

In another city, a meter that was not even hooked up was showing water use. In both cases, water officials initially said their meters were working just fine – much like San Diego officials are saying about the county’s water meters.

“I think they are unfamiliar with the technology and it’s a horror show for them. They have all these irate customers and the last thing they want to admit is that the brand new, very expensive meters they just bought and installed are failing and generating these high bills,” Brinchman.

Susan was able to get the Ramona Municipal Water District to agree to let residents opt out the smart meter program. She believes many of her neighbors have taken advantage of that option, and to those who already have the new meters and are stuck with higher bills, Susan said – keep fighting.

“Demand a new meter immediately – that is going to tell the story,” she said.

Since News 8 launched its water investigation last month, Public Utilities Director Michael Vogel says the department has either adjusted people's bills or - in many cases - explained why they're so high.

Last month, City Councilman Chris Cate sent a memo to PUD demanding answers and asking for their participation in a public forum.

Cate said other Council members received the same complaints from their constituents.

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry on last month also asked the city auditor to look into the utility department's billing procedures.

The mayor directed the city's public utilities department to investigate the claims, but the head of the department says there may be some simple reasons San Diegans are seeing higher bills.

As for people with questions with their bills or having trouble paying it, you're urged to contact the City of San Diego Public Utilities


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