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'It's your fault'; Malfunctioning water meters and the customers who pay for them

'It's your fault'; Malfunctioning water meters and the customers who pay for them

By Maggie Vespa. CREATED Aug 6, 2014

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It is a bare necessity of everyday life: water.

We all need it.  We all use it.  And, presumably, we all pay for it.
But what happens when the provider of this life-saving resource, your local utility company, claims you have been getting water for free because their equipment malfunctioned?
The answer may surprise you.
Everyone has their favorite season.
Safe to say Robert Knotts' favorite is upon us.
"So we collect as much rain water as possible," he said. "And then we use this for plants."
Knotts also uses his gutters to fill his pool and has a low-flow toilet.
Ke even saves cold shower water to shower his plants.
Yep, one can assume Robert Knotts is more aware than most of his water usage habits.  So it's no surprise that his Tucson Water bills are low and paid on time.
"You have your stack of bills once or twice a month that you pay," he said. "You just sit down, and you pay them."
But Knotts was about to learn even the most conscientious of consumers can be caught off guard.
"I get the letter saying that your meters been frozen," he said.  "We're going to go back over however long it's been frozen and estimate a bill."
Knotts soon leared that bill would cover a meter frozen for nine months.
But how can that be?
Knotts had been paying bills for nine months, all with his average balance.
He called Tucson Water.
"I said 'Well, how could this have gone on for nine months and nobody caught this?' and he goes 'Well, that's where it's your fault,'" said Knotts.
Your fault?
That's right, says Tucson Water spokesman Fernando Molina.
"The city code requires customers pay for the water that's used," he said.
Molina pointed 9OYS to a city code that says, even if a meter breaks, you will have to eventually cough up the cash for each and every drop.
Molina knows, because he's had to abide by that code himself.
"I got a letter from Tucson Water that said my meter was under-reading," he said.
Molina says it's a problem that, while not common, does exist.
So every few months, Tucson Water does an audit of sorts, then delivers the bad news to those who have been paying too little.
But Molina says there is a bright side, courtesy of new technology.
Specifically, residents are, little by little, receiving new, digital meters that will track usage minute by minute.
So if your meter is malfunctioning, it will be caught sooner, resulting in a lower bill.
Still, how can you keep yourself from drowning?
Knotts now knows the secret lies not in the bill's balance, but in it's bars.
"There's a bar graph, and if it's looking flat...I was thinking this was because it was winter," he said, showing us his.  "Yeah, I should have noticed that."
And Knotts says if you see any irregularities with the bars or your bill, don't hesitate.
Call Tucson Water before the financial floods come in.
"Don't wait for them because it may be thousands of dollars you may owe by the time they get ahold of you," he said.
Knotts' bill covering those nine months with a partially frozen meter came out to around $70, which he paid.
But again, he's incredibly frugal.
His worry is that, for a family who isn't so careful, this could be a huge blow.