Post Hurricane Water Bills Questioned By Customers

Following the recent catastrophic hurricane events in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico, many utilities have been fielding calls from their customers about unexpectedly high utility bills. It’s natural for citizens impacted by a hurricane to expect that their utility bills would be lower, especially if they turned their power and water off before relocating ahead of the storm and did not return until roads were passable.

But in many cases, bills were estimated because crews were unable to get out and accurately read meters during the hurricane and post-event flooding. Many (if not most) utilities do this to ensure that they continue to receive a steady stream of revenue to cover ongoing operations, debt payments etc. Once meter reading resumes, the next month’s bill is adjusted to reflect correct usage.

With the extremity of the events that we’ve seen over the past few months, some utilities have made the decision to put a hold on late payment charges and extend non-pay disconnects. This allows the customer to recover from the storm and catch up to two months of water billing once the meter reading team can determine the actual amount owed.

According to an ABC Action News story out of Saint Petersburg FL, Pinellas County Utilities was forced to estimate water usage for 7,000 customers by charging the average of their last 3 billing cycles.

Although estimated billing can surprise residents who vacated properties and did not use water during their absence, it might be a more palatable solution than being billed in line with meter readings post-hurricane. According to one ABC13 story, one Houston resident saw his water bill top $1,700. Presumably an appliance or two shifted during the storm resulting in severe leakage causing “consumption” at his property to spike.

In many cases when this happens, the utility is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They certainly understand the plight that many of their citizens face after a storm has decimated their lodgings. And yet meters don’t lie. With thousands of gallons of treated water lost, the utility can’t simply write off that consumption. Somebody has to pay for it. In these cases, utilities often work with their customers to agree on a one-time reduced payment.  

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