1/23 Correction: In an earlier version of this story, it was incorrectly reported the Bonney Lake City Council was wrapping up its investigation into high water bills and water consumption. The city of Bonney Lake conducted the investigation. The story has been updated.
1/22 Original post: The city of Bonney Lake looks to be wrapping up its investigation into resident complaints about abnormally high water bills, but some citizens remain unsatisfied with the answers they’ve been given.
Last October, dozens of residents attended a council meeting complaining of water bills that doubled or even tripled, even though they said they hadn’t used more water than usual.
The city said the heat and dry spell that hit the area last August and September was to blame.
“That drove up a lot of bills,” City Administrator Don Morrison said at the time. “Consumption for August and September this year was probably four or five times higher than it was in prior years.”
Bonney Lake decided to perform an internal audit of their water utility, which included sending extra staff out on meter reading runs to double check all three kinds of water meters the city uses were being read correctly.
The city updated residents about the audit in a late November meeting.
“As we suspected, this is proving to be a consumption issue, not a faulty meter or calculation issue,” Morrison said.
Additionally, 43 meters — a mix of manual-read, touch-read and radio-read meters, all from homes that received high water bills — were sent to Everett to be tested for accuracy.
A memo was presented at the Jan. 9, 2018 council meeting, detailing testing techniques and results.
“3 meters out of the 43 meters tested failed to comply with the accuracy standards. All of these meters failed the test by under registering the flow,” Superintendent of Public Works Ryan Johnstone wrote in the memo, adding meters can be within the range of 98.5 percent to 101.5 percent accuracy and be “considered accurate” by the state.
Nineteen meters tested between 100 and 101.5 percent accuracy, 20 between 98.5 and 100 percent accuracy, and one at 100 percent accuracy.
“As far as I’m concerned, this concludes our internal review,” Morrison said after the Jan. 9 meeting. “We strongly suspected the test results would be as they turned out, but felt we needed to conclusively prove our case…. The simple fact is that we had one of the hottest and driest summers on record, and 2 percent of the customers used record amounts of water, probably not realizing what it would cost, and then tried their best to blame their consumption and resulting bill on other factors.”
According to Assistant Public Works Superintendent David Cihak, 2017 saw the second highest water consumption levels in Bonney Lake history, with 1.207 billion gallons used.
2015 remains the record with 1.22 billion gallons of water consumed.
Additionally, 2017 was the lowest year for distribution leakage, or in more plain terms, unaccounted-for water, which includes leaks, theft, administration errors, and meter inaccuracies. Last year, just over 8 percent of water used was considered distribution system leakage. The three year average for the city is just over 10 percent, and the 10 year average is more than 12 percent.
The state Department of Health’s goal for cities the same size as Bonney Lake is no more than 9 percent distribution system leakage.
RESIDENTS, COUNCILMEMBERS STILL NOT CONVINCED
Despite the city’s assurance that there is no bug in the system, some residents and councilmembers remain skeptical of the answers they’ve been given.
One is resident Cindy Gilsing, who received a bill that said she used more than 45,600 gallons of water between July 10 and Sept. 13, 2017, costing her more than $300.
Comparatively, the same billing period in 2016 showed she used only 13,500 gallons.
She told the council there was no way she used that much water last summer, since she has installed low-flush toilets and didn’t water her lawn like she normally does. The only possibility she said, was there must have been a leak, but the city quickly confirmed there was none.
Additionally, her meter was one of the 43 tested in Everett. The meter was found to be 99.57 percent accurate.
Gilsing requested her water consumption data from the city, broken down both by day and by hour, in order to see when water was recorded being used.
According to the data for Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, close to 6,900 gallons of water ran through her home that day, the most water consumed in a single day between July 15 and Oct. 19.
Her meter first recorded approximately 970 gallons being used between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Water use spiked to 2,700 gallons between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and then dropped back to around 860 gallons of water recorded being used between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
A steady stream of water to the amount of 260 gallons each hour was then recorded for between 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. the next day, a total of more than 4,600 gallons of water in 18 hours.
Gilsing said there’s no way she used that much water those two days, or continually run water for that long.
“These entries have to be a mistake,” she wrote in a letter to Mayor Neil Johnson and city administration last December.
Councilmen Dan Swatman and Justin Evans both say the city’s done well in tackling this problem, but agree there is still more to be done.
Swatman said even though the city hasn’t found any correlating data linking the small number of people experiencing water consumption spikes, he believes there’s still an issue the city hasn’t found yet.
“There seems to be too many people with issues that are unexplained,” he added. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
“All we’ve done thus far is determine the accuracy of the meters,” Evans said. “I know the Public Works department, along with the Finance Department, have done a tremendous job in getting as much as they have done, but I believe there’s still more to do.”
Morrison said the city can’t speculate on how Gilsing may have consumed that much water on Aug. 3 through Aug. 4, let alone through that entire billing period, but he listed some common consumption averages for various leaking fixtures.
For example, a running toilet tends to use more than a gallon an hour, or 26 gallons in a single day, and more than 780 gallons a month.
A leaking faucet, with one drop of water per second, can consume up to 9 gallons of water a day.
On the more extreme end of the scale are garden hoses left running or missing sprinkler heads — a half-inch diameter hose can lead to more than 4,300 gallons of water being consumed in just one day if it’s left running.
“A three-quarter inch meter (which is what is installed at Ms. Gilsing’s home) can deliver as much as 43,200 gallons of water per day or up to 30 gallons per minute according to the manufacturer and AWWA standards,” Morrison said. “When Dave [Cihak] was onsite with Ms. Gilsing, he was able to demonstrate in her presence that her hose bib turned a quarter of a turn on was using 8 gallons per minute.”
Future Bonney Lake City Council preliminary agendas did not include any additional discussions about the water consumption issue.