BARSTOW About 150 angry customers of Golden State Water Company showed up to the company's Open House Friday night at the Hampton Inn to voice their concerns over water bill increases, many bills hundreds of dollars more than before.

Perry Dahlstrom, Golden State district manager for the mountain desert district, set up a large ball room for about 100 people, but hotel staff had to bring in more chairs, filling the room.

Dahlstrom said the purpose of the meeting was to address the concerns of their customers. He began with a presentation about how updating water meters can increase bills.

He explained that as meters wear, they become less accurate, allowing more water to pass unaccounted for. When meters are replaced, it's normal to have a bill increase.

"It'd be nice if we had meters that were 100 percent accurate at all times," Dahlstrom said. "The problem is they're mechanical."

Throughout his presentation the crowd groaned and grumbled among themselves. On occasion some would shout out disagreements.

When he opened up for questions and comments, the crowd poured out a flood of complaints and individual "war stories" with rate increases. Some saw bills 10 times more than before. Some told of having their water shut off; others of getting the run around from Golden State customer service representatives.

Thom Armstrong questioned the accuracy of the calculations on his water bill, and many chimed in agreement. After having a mathematician look at his bill, Armstrong concluded that if accurate the bill indicates he uses almost eight times the amount of water the average household uses, which he said is not possible with just him and his wife. Dahlstrom disagreed with Armstrong that his bill was incorrect, which several attendants expressed displeasure with.

"I think that you have a lot of specific information coming from your customers but you really don't seem to really care," Barstow resident Kathy Ashbrook said. "The customer service sucks."

Planning Commissioner Carmen Hernandez said to Dahlstrom that she didn't believe a company would allow meters to pump at only 50 to 60 percent and lose that much profit.

"I think it's time that Golden State Water stand up and address these issues," Hernandez said. "I'm here to tell you that we will be at the (Public Utilities Commission)."
To this, the crowd applauded.

Dahlstrom explained that while some of the increase in bills is due to the meter replacements, much of the bill increase is due to a recent upgrade to the system that charges lower rates for lower water usage, a tier-rating system mandated by the PUC. To encourage conservation the PUC added another tier to the system, meaning that many are paying significantly higher rates. This is the issue Dahlstrom said the customers need to bring to the PUC.

One angry customer, who did not identify himself asked the crowd how many trusted Dahlstrom and Golden State.

Most said they didn't.