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80-year-old resident protests high water bill as a faulty meter issue
Nawatha Reed at council
Nawatha Reed, 80, approached the council last week about a high water bill but allowed daughter Cheryl Welch (right) to read her statement.

City staff members were tasked with investigating the complaints of an elderly Ceres woman that the city must have made a mistake in charging her for her March water bill.

Nawatha Reed, 80, approached the council about her problem but allowed daughter Cheryl Welch to read her statement. Reed said that around April 12 she went online to check her water bill and was “shocked when I saw that I was being charged for 43,916 plus gallons of water usage for the month of March.”

Reed went to the city utilities counter to protest that “there was no way I used that much water.”

The high water usage was alleged to have taken place between March 12 and March 21 when she was out of town for five of the 12 days. The bill was about $405.45 when a normal bill runs $150.

Reed was told that the meters were very accurate.

Reed, who is 80 and lives alone, said she waters her lawn only once a week and laundry every other week and that were is no soggy ground anywhere on her lot.

City crews went to her home to take out the water meter and install a different one and later was told the old meter “passed with flying colors” while also being told their test is 98.3 percent accurate. Reed said that means two meters out of 100 could be giving a false reading.

Reed was also told the high usage could have been that her pool overflow system had been running with the water going straight into the sewer system. She consulted with a pool company and was told there is no such thing on her pool.

“You cannot have 40,000 gallons – which is twice the water that’s in her pool – around her property without having something flooded,” said Welch. She said she checked under her mother’s house and found nothing wet nor did the neighbors report any flooding.

Councilman Mike Kline asked if the water usage has returned to normal with the new meter and was told yes.

“My inclination is it could be a faulty meter,” said Kline.

Sam Royal, acting director of Public Works, acknowledged that meters do “go bad” and are generally replaced every 10 years “but in this case we tested the meter for 25 minutes at the corp yard at three different intervals and that’s why we determined we were at 98.3 percent passing.”

Kline held to his belief that Reed’s meter was bad to which Royal admitted “it’s puzzling.”

Royal said a faucet could have been left on for 12 days.

City Manager Alex Terrazas advised the council not to make a decision on a customer service issue as staff takes “one more crack at trying to please the customer and then we can report back to the council with the resolution.” He said the council was getting too deep in an item not on the agenda.