Viewer says massive water usage could have been avoided - WNEM TV 5

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Viewer says massive water usage could have been avoided

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A Phoenix woman says the city water department hit her with an outrageous bill after they failed to promptly notify her of massive leak - a leak the city knew about weeks earlier.

Not all homeowners know this, but they are responsible for water line breaks between the meter and their house. But if the leak's underground, you wouldn't know about it until you got your next bill. In cases like this, homeowners rely on their city water department to help keep them informed.

"I felt like I'm the little guy and they're the big guy," Angela Kelley said.

For the past seventeen years, Kelley says her average City of Phoenix water bill for her small condo has been around $40 per month. This past April she happened to notice a water department worker checking her meter. He told her she had a bad leak. Kelley checked her latest bill - it was more than $400.

"He told me we were already into the next billing cycle, almost to the end of it, so I would have another complete bill that would probably be higher than my first, so I cried," Kelley said.

It was higher all right for sure.  It was over one thousand dollars. Kelley shut off her water and had repairmen fix the broken pipe but the financial damage was already done.

"I don't have $1,500 to spend on a water bill, I mean it's the middle of summer and electricity goes up as it is," Kelley said.

Kelley feels Phoenix Water should take some responsibility. She says they saw the change in usage and knew something was way out of whack. But they delayed weeks in letting Kelley know about it.

"The first time they read the meter on March 29, that should have been a red flag because I usually only use between one and four units and I was at 112 units, and I thought why didn't they call me immediately," Kelley said.

Kelley says Phoenix Water told her the bill was her responsibility alone. She doesn't think that's fair.

"It would have saved me at least $1,000 if they had just called me and let me know so I could have fixed it," Kelley said.

CBS 5 News reached out to the City of Phoenix to advocate for Kelley. Water officials told CBS 5 News that they normally respond to massive spikes in usage like this within a day or two and acknowledged there was a delay in this case. For those reasons, city water officials canceled out more than $1,100 in water charges for those two months.

Finding underground leaks are not easy for homeowners. Your only viable option is to check your meter regularly during the month to see if it's spinning very rapidly.  That's a sign you have a leak, and you should contact customer service right away.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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