FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The city of Fort Wayne is in the process of installing new water meters, designed to immediately warn customers about excessive usage.
“It’s time for a new set of meters and technology has improved,” said Frank Suárez, with Fort Wayne City Utilities. “These meters will allow us to connect with our iPhones and our other technology, where we can get a notice about usage in our house, up to the minute if we want to. We can set an alert if too much water is being used, which would tip us off possibly if there’s a leak.”
Suárez said these new meters will be operational for all 100,000 City Utilities customers within the next two years. The installations started in late August. So far, about 400 customers have gotten their meters replaced.
This new technology should help families avoid situations like the Beck family currently finds themselves in.
In August, Julie and Chris Beck’s daughter Miranda received a water bill for $807.98, which said she used 68,187 gallons of water. Her past bills typically fell in the $70-$80 range and said she used between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons of water per month.
“I was like, it’s got to be a mistake, a clerical error or something,” said Julie. “She wasn’t too worried about it at first… She truly believed it was just an error on their end.”
Unfortunately, that nonchalant feeling turned to panic once Beck received a $564.61 bill for the month of September. The bill said she used 46,151 gallons of water, totaling about 114,000 gallons over two months.
To put things in perspective, that’s enough water to fill 23 swimming pools.
Unfortunately, the Beck family’s situation isn’t all that uncommon. Suárez said he’s seen numerous instances where people have a leaky faucet or running toilet and aren’t aware of the problem because its in a part of their house that isn’t frequently used.
He also recalled a time when young family’s two children were playing outdoors, using water from the spigot. The parents didn’t notice the spigot was left on and then the family went away for the weekend. When they arrived back home, they were greeted with a muddy yard– and later that month, a high water bill.
“These are unfortunate situations,” said Suárez. “But, certainly this can run up a bill and thousands of gallons a month can go can go down the drain unused really by the the owner… but they’re used because they have to go to the sewer treatment and they go through the whole system.”
The Becks said they checked Miranda’s house several times but didn’t find any issues or leaks.
“We tested the meter and it seemed to be functioning like I would expect,” said Chris. “So, I called the city, and they were helpful in, you know, helping us get to the bottom of it, but we’re still not there yet and it’s a mystery.”
The Becks said the bigger mystery is that the bill appears to be back to normal for Miranda’s upcoming payment.
“Somehow there is no issue now and the water usage is back to normal this month after mid-July though mid-September it was running through over 100,000 gallons of water but she didn’t do anything different,” said Julie. “All we did was go test things we never found a problem and we never fixed anything so this doesn’t make any sense.”
The Becks are on the hook for hundreds of dollars for hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
Suárez said his biggest piece of advice for customers who find themselves in a situation like this is to update their phone contact information because the city will notify you at the end of the month if your bill looks “outside the norm,” which could prevent it from happening a second month.
He also recommends that anyone who notices a leak, not put it off too long because it can add up and continue to get worse.
The Becks hope that sharing their daughter’s story will serve as a warning for others. They, along with Suárez, also hope the new meters will prevent other Fort Wayne families from flushing away hundreds of dollars.
The link to update your contact information can be found here.