WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Your water bill from CFPUA is one of the bills we hear a lot of complaints about in the newsroom.
Typically, it's after a customer has experienced an undetected leak, or they've had a new water meter installed and their bill has spiked.
We're delving into those and other water-related consumer concerns in our continuing series called Understanding Your Bill.
For customers of Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, bills are sent out every two months, for a total of six bills a year. So if a leak happens near the beginning of your two-month billing cycle and goes unnoticed, it can really add up by the time you get your bill.
"Leaking toilets are probably your biggest water users out of everything. And it could be something that starts out very small and you see just a gradual increase, but you could potentially use up to 200,000 gallons in a two-month period. Just depending on how often it's running," CFPUA Customer Service Director Kristi Irick explained.
Ice makers, spigots along the outside of your home, and water heaters have also been cited as common culprits for leaks.
CFPUA said their customers experienced a huge surge in leaks during the extended cold weather in January, which caused some people's pipes to burst. If you can prove to CFPUA that your water usage surged because of a leak, and if you can prove that the leak has been repaired, either by you or a professional plumber, you can appeal for an adjustment to your bill.
While CFPUA has drawn the ire of many a WECT viewer who just experienced a leak that had gone unnoticed, CFPUA says they do everything in their power to warn you of a leak, including hanging a door hanger on your door if they notice a spike in water usage, calling you, and even writing you a letter if they cannot reach you by phone.
Technology improvements should help them help you detect even minor leaks.
"Our new software, it has on the software the ability to look to see whether a leak has been detected. What that means is, if there is as little as a gallon of water going through the meter per hour for a 24 hour period it will give us an alert so that we can contact the customer much quicker and let them know that they may have a potential problem," Irick said.
CFPUA will also make suggestions to help you pinpoint a potential leak if you or even a plumber has been unable to find it. They can even provide die tabs for your toilet tank so you can see if water is leaking into the bowl when it shouldn't.
CFPUA is in the middle of replacing the water meters for customers throughout New Hanover County. Many of you have complained your bills increased after the new meters were installed. Irick says in those cases, the error is likely with the old meter, not the new one.
"If they have an older meter, those meters may be ending their useful life. And as the meters are in the ground, they will slow down over time so they are not able to capture all of the water that was being consumed," Irick explained. "The new meters are much more sensitive, and they will capture all the water that's going through the meter. So if the bill gives the appearance that it is higher, it's probably just capturing all the consumption that is taking place."
While you may question the accuracy of your meter reading because you didn't see anyone physically come into your yard and look at it your meter, most usage can now be determined with drive-by technology as meter readers remotely capture your meter reading. If the reading is in doubt, a technician can come out and physically read your meter.
Irick says the varying number of days in the month and seasonal changes can lead to billing confusion.
She says you are likely to have a higher bill in cycles where there are 31 days in a month than a cycle with a 28 day month, so factor that in when deciding if you may have been overbilled. Water usage can also spike during the summer months when customers are watering their lawns.
The Customer Service Director has the final say when a disputed amount is less than $500.
For disputes over $500, the customer can ask for a hearing with the CFPUA Executive Director.
If the customer is still not satisfied at that point, they have the option to appeal their case in New Hanover County Superior Court. CFPUA is not regulated by the State Utility Commission.
Bills are due 30 days after they are issued. If you don't pay within that window you will get a delinquency notice about your outstanding balance. If you still don't pay within a set grace period, you will get a final reminder call from CFPUA before being at risk for disconnection.
Sometimes, customers will pay their bill in part, and the unpaid balance will be added to the bill for the next billing cycle.
The past due amount and the current due amount will be included in the same total, and may appear to be part of the total that is due 30 days from when the latest bill was issued, but customers should know that any overdue amount from the last cycle is still past due, and may still trigger late fees and disconnection.
For various reasons, many customers do not pay their water bill in the time required, prompting CFPUA to disconnect 100-200 customers a week. Once an account is settled, they can reconnect you as quickly as the same day you pay your bill.