What’s Up With the Water Bills?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Flushing money down the drain? City staff say high water bills may be due to running toilets.

Some East Lansing residents have taken note of spiking water bills.

A portion of East Lansing residents were erroneously double charged on their water bills in October 2020, covering the period of time roughly encompassing July, August and September of last year. For those affected, the bills were fixed and the residents paid the proper amount due or, if they had paid already, the overage was refunded. 

Other residents, though, have noted receiving water bills that were approximately double what they would usually be for periods in 2020. And when some of those residents — who were not affected by the double charge glitch — did contact the City, they were told that they did, in fact, use that much more water. 

The increase to water bills led several residents to share similar experiences online and spurred a couple of ELi readers to ask us to look into the matter.

So, what’s the deal with these strangely high water bills that don’t seem to be explainable by error?

Residents encountering this problem often get the same answer from the City.

Residents facing this issue have recounted similar responses from the City: that the bill was correct, and the culprit must be some defective plumbing — likely a leaking or running toilet. 

Some residents whose bills spiked have been skeptical that they have used that much more water. But proving it is challenging.

Residents facing this problem have generally been reporting feeling they have no recourse and that they are simply paying the bills.

The City maintains that those bills were correct.

In response to questions sent to Department of Public Works Director Scott House, a member of the City’s communications staff wrote that staff had found no issues with these bills — meaning they were correct — and encouraged residents to get in touch with issues. 

The response continued: “The vast majority of high water bills are related to defective plumbing, such as a running toilet. Residents can avoid an elevated water bill by monitoring household consumption by regularly reading their water meter. … Additionally, as more time is spent at home due to constraints from Covid-19, more water is consumed.” 

City staff included a link to information on reading a water meter.

On Thursday (March 18), ELi raised the issue of these water bills at the East Lansing-Meridian Water and Sewer Authority’s monthly meeting. The queries were deferred to House — he is the City Staff liaison to the Authority — who offered broadly similar answers to what the communication staff shared earlier. 

“Some people might not understand the nuances” of their water bill, House said.

The City’s communications staff has shared information with ELi about the overall water usage in the City for the second half of 2020. 

For the October 2020 billing period (roughly July, August and September of 2020), the total usage in the City was 52,383,000 gallons. Of that usage 44,285,000 came through regular water meters and an additional 8,098,000 gallons flowed through irrigation meters. 

For the January 2021 billing period (roughly October, November and December of 2020), the total usage in East Lansing was lower, at 41,480,000 gallons. The decline mostly came from the irrigation flow dropping to 281,000 gallons as the winter weather set in. Water usage through regular meters declined by a little more than three million gallons in the period, with 41,199,000 gallons of water being used. 

ELi wants to hear about your water bill.

If you’ve had this sort of problem — or a different one — with your water bill, you can share your experience with ELi by filling out this form. We’ll keep your information confidential but use it to try to see if there are patterns that need further explanation.

The City also encourages residents who have an issue with their water bill to contact the City. For billing-related questions, Finance staff members are reachable at 517-319-6860. For questions about water consumption, or similar matters, residents can reach DPW staff at 517-37-9459.

Click here to read our previous reporting about the doubling of water/sewer rates in East Lansing over the last decade.

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