Many Bonney Lake residents attended the Jan. 9 council meeting to complain about high water bills, and engaged many City Council members, Mayor Neil Johnson and other staff members in conversation about the city’s findings after the meeting was over. Photo by Ray Still

Many Bonney Lake residents attended the Jan. 9 council meeting to complain about high water bills, and engaged many City Council members, Mayor Neil Johnson and other staff members in conversation about the city’s findings after the meeting was over. Photo by Ray Still

Bonney Lake releases findings on water meter tests, ends internal audit

Dozens of residents complained to the council last October about what they called impossibly high water bills. After several months performing an internal audit of the water utility system, including testing 43 water meters from homes that received a high water bills, the city holds there is no bug in the system, and residents used the amount of water recorded on their bills. But some residents, and even councilmembers, remain unconvinced.

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.

Bonney Lake resident Cindy Gilsing says there’s no way she used more than 45,000 gallons of water between early July and early September 2017. On Aug. 3, she used more than 6,900 gallons, with her water meter showing water flowed through her house continually from 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 3 to 12L30 p.m. Aug. 4. City Administrator Don Morrison said there are many kinds of leaks that could explain how so much water was consumed, including a leaking water hose. Image by Ray Still

Bonney Lake resident Cindy Gilsing says there’s no way she used more than 45,000 gallons of water between early July and early September 2017. On Aug. 3, she used more than 6,900 gallons, with her water meter showing water flowed through her house continually from 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 3 to 12L30 p.m. Aug. 4. City Administrator Don Morrison said there are many kinds of leaks that could explain how so much water was consumed, including a leaking water hose. Image by Ray Still

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.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in News

Feel free to use this image, just link to www.SeniorLiving.Org
Buckley budget includes money for streets, recreation projects

Residents can look forward to work being done on River Avenue and a new athletic court.

Enumclaw's decision making tree
ESD students will not return until January

Many teachers and parents saw flaws in the plan for students to return to school after Thanksgiving, just to have them go on winter holiday a few weeks later.

Sage Viniconis is a career performing artist in King County who’s been out of work and seeking creative outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo/Sage Viniconis
Puget Sound artists adapt creativity, and business sense, to pandemic

Artists Sunday is an online directory that connects artists across the county, state and nation.

The Courier-Herald is moving to a paid-subscription model. Photo by Ray Miller-Still
Dec. 2 is the last free edition of the Courier-Herald

When you subscribe to a newspaper, you’re not just receiving a product, but investing in an idea.

One of the highlights of Holiday Fantasy has been outright donations to a worthy cause. Here, attendees show their support during the 2018 event. This year, the event will be holding a virtual auction over four days. Photo by Kevin Hanson
Holiday Fantasy goes virtual, offers four days of silent auction

The annual Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation fundraiser helps fund nearly a third of the non-profits various programs, from feeding seniors to arranging transport to medical appointments.

File photo
Snow Lake, located near Snoqualmie Pass in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Washington releases new forest plan

It outlines ways the state will protect and maintain forest health.

Still from the movie
New horror movie filmed in Enumclaw

“They Reach” was written and directed by a former local, who wanted to show off Enumclaw in his first-ever feature-length film.

City of Buckley's Merry and Bright competition
Buckley hosts first-ever holiday decoration competition

The deadline to register your home is Dec. 4.

King County Council has nine members who each represent a district. Courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Council passes $12.59 billion biennial budget

King County Council on Nov. 17 passed a $12.59 billion biennial budget… Continue reading

Most Read