BARSTOW Despite doubts from customers, experts say water leaks could be a major cause of high water bills from Golden State Water Company.

Local plumbers report that they have gotten more calls in recent months to check for leaks; calls from customers complaining about outrageous water bills. Most of them, plumbers say, do have leaks.

Dennis Haefele, owner of Heart Plumbing in Barstow, said his company gets a call to check for leaks every day.

"This is just an opinion, but most of the calls with high water bills do have a reason," Haefele said. "Inaccuracy does happen, but it's rare."

The accuracy of Golden State's billing was called into question at last month's community meeting hosted by Golden State. Many angry customers asked how it was possible for them to use water multiple times more than the average household.

The average residential usage for Barstow in 2011 is 12 ccfs of water, though usage goes up to 18 ccfs in the summer months.

Some customers report using hundreds of ccfs for their regular-size household.

Golden State District Manager Perry Dahlstrom said there's only two reasons your water bill would be too high: a water leak or overusage.

To address these issues, Dahlstrom advises checking for leaks or hiring a plumber to check. Some water leaks are visible to the eye, such as leaky faucets or running toilets.

Haefele said anyone can check for leaks by looking at their water meter. If no one's using water in the house and the smaller dial on the water meter is spinning, there's a leak.

A leak can amount to a substantial increase in a bill, especially if it pushes the customer into the third-tier water billing bracket. Water customers are billed using a three-tier system to encourage water conservation those who use more, pay more per ccf. A bill for 12 ccfs per month is about $60 every two-month billing cycle. But add a running-toilet, wasting 21,600 gallons a month, and the bill will be closer to $300.

Often Haefele will find multiple leaks at one residence. The problem is most won't notice how much water is wasted until they get their bill possibly two months after the leak started.

Alice Hanify, from Ziemer Plumbing, Inc., said most of the calls they get for leak checks are from landlords. She thinks many homeowners can't or won't afford the cost to check for leaks, which is between $70 to $85.

"It can be pretty pricey," Hanify said.

Haefele said after water rate increases, the cost of a leak is much more than it has ever been before.

"Almost everyone says the same thing: 'I can't afford to keep this leak,'" Haefele said. "I think it's very, very sad."

Golden State offers customers a water use audit, free of charge, to determine ways to cut down on water use. For more information contact the local Golden State Water Company office at (800) 999-4033.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or klucia@desertdispatch.com