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TMCNet:  San Jose Mercury News Scott Herhold column

[May 13, 2013]

San Jose Mercury News Scott Herhold column

May 13, 2013 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Tony Moore used to be afraid to flush his toilet. Every time he did, his water meter recorded that he used 68.8 gallons of water. He joked that it would be cheaper to use bottled Perrier in his 1.6-gallon low-flow toilet.


Since a new water meter was installed in November, San Jose Water Co. has billed him for more than 1.3 million gallons of water. In the month of April alone, he was billed for enough water to fill 30 swimming pools.

A laughing matter Well, no: The self-employed Los Gatos civil engineer recently received a $3,100 bill for February and March. His saga appears headed -- bad pun, sorry -- for a happy ending. But it took persistent complaining for a resolution to occur.

A tall, angular man who lives in a recently remodeled 140-year-old house on a hill south of the Los Gatos library, Moore ordinarily paid his water bill without much question.

When he got the two-month $3,100 bill, however, he knew something was wrong. The house has low-flow faucets, low-flow showers, and only a modest lawn in back. Because his piping is above ground, Moore was confident he could spot a leak.

So he complained to the San Jose Water Co., which last week sent out five employees to check out his water meter. Moore says he flushed the toilet to show them that the meter's register, which looks something like a watch face, recorded 68.8 gallons.

"The supervisor told me that something was wrong with my toilet," said Moore, who had to put $420 down on his two-month bill while the water company investigated. "Their default response seems to be that it's always something wrong with the customer's plumbing." When Moore sent an email to the Mercury News asking for help, I jumped on the story. I have to admit I had a little skepticism at first. I called a highly respected plumber, who told me, "Those meters don't usually lie. This guy has a leak." When I went out to the house, though, it certainly didn't seem like Moore was using that much water. His lawn had turned brown in spots. He volunteered to flush his toilet. I told him to save his 68.8 gallons. I believed him.

When I first contacted San Jose Water, I got a response that wasn't overwhelmingly favorable to Moore. John Tang, director of government relations, wrote that while the water company had not identified any obvious leaks, they could still exist.

(San Jose Water Co., incidentally, is not the same as the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a middleman that I have nicknamed the "Golden Spigot." As a retailer of water, SJWC generally has a good reputation for customer service).

A few hours later, however, Tang wrote back to say that after a review of a video that was taken during the water company's visit last week, "We have determined that the error is on our end." Tang explained that the water company had placed an incorrect register on Moore's meter, which resulted in high readings and charges. He said the company would adjust the charges.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, the San Jose Water Co. people came out and installed a new register for Moore's meter. To test it, they flushed the toilet. And this time, the reading was correct. Moore says a supervisor promised to credit his bill for the time the faulty register was in place.

So all's well that ends well I think you have to say yes. "I guess mistakes happen, so it is very important to check your bill," Moore told me. "Just glad I wasn't on autopay." Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Twitter.com/scottherhold.

___ (c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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