BARSTOW • One Barstow resident recently racked up over $1,000 in water bills, sure there was something amiss in the dramatic spike in her bill beginning last summer.
Stephanie Hernandez's bi-monthly water bill skyrocketed to more than $400 in June 2012, when it had been as low as $141.15 and peaked at $237.97 during the eight prior months.
Bills that followed would read similarly: $593 in August, $575 in October and $475 in December.
Certain that she hadn't altered her water usage that drastically even in the midst of a stringent High Desert summer, she spent months working with Golden State Water (GSW) to figure it out.
Last December, she learned from GSW that her water meter was leaking (but only on GSW's side, the company told her) and opted to install a new meter and send the old one out for independent testing.
The test results left her with more questions, but after a couple of phone conversations with local operations superintendent Jesse Ramirez, she received a $750 credit to her account.
According to a letter from GSW sent Feb. 1, her old meter reportedly tested out to be 98.9% accurate.
The water bill in February with a brand-new meter was more aligned with what she had been used to, she said. It's still officially unknown what caused the spike.
Perry Dahlstrom, manager of GSW's mountain desert district, couldn't specifically provide comment in Hernandez's case due to privacy issues, but he did offer general explanations.
"I understand the frustration, because it's a big deal," Dahlstrom said.
According to Dahlstrom, every customer has the right to have their meter tested and request a water audit, where a third-party meets with the individual(s) and performs a "full-blown" review of their water consumption.
GSW will themselves monitor a customer's history to determine if they'd be a good fit for a third-party review.
"We look at a customer's history and if they have continued high bills, we recommend they have an audit," he said.
However, its the customer's responsibility to take action on any recommendations, he explained. Meter upkeep also falls on the shoulders of the customer, he said. If a meter leaks on the customer side, they should call a plumber. And when a meter leaks on GSW's side — as what was explained to Hernandez — the customer doesn't accrue additional charges and GSW should fix it.
"Water meters measure the amount of water that goes through the meters," he said, explaining that a GSW-side leak doesn't cause water to go through the meter.
When asked why a customer would receive a credit when independent testing showed the old meter was working fine, he said GSW is able to compensate such issues on a case-by-case basis regardless.
"If they've been a good customer and haven't gotten a bunch of adjustments already, we'll work with them," he said.
Dahlstrom insists that customers should check their meters regularly to verify that nothing seems out of whack (GSW only reads them every two months), and contact GSW immediately if water bills jump irregularly.
It's especially important to "raise your awareness of water consumption," he noted. Summertime is normally when water bills tend to climb due to sprinkler system and swamp cooler usage, he said.
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense "Fix a Leak Week" awareness program will kick off, intended to "remind Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems (for leaks)," according to WaterSense.
"The biggest problem with consumption is leaks," Dahlstrom confirmed. "And the biggest culprits are toilets."
While warm weather continues to blanket Barstow heading into summer, area residents would do well to keep an eye on their own water consumption and, specifically, irregularities in their water bills.
Visit www.epa.com/watersense for more information on "Fix a Leak Week" and water conservation.
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.