Dysfunctional device causing massive, incorrect water bills in west Houston is part of bigger issue

Chaz Miller Image
Saturday, May 6, 2023
Electronic-reading device glitch might be why your water bill is high
Higher water bills in west Houston are being caused by electronic-reading devices that are overestimating the actual usage in homes.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Public Works has tweeted that it's aware of a potentially drastic increase in some water bills for residents near I-10 and Eldridge Parkway in west Houston.

A Houston Public Works spokesperson told ABC13 that the reason they issued the warning has to do with 500 electronic-reading devices they replaced in the area in March.

That device is what electronically transmits your water-usage data back to the city for billing purposes, and that spokesperson told us these particular readers have included manufacturer-based glitches that have vastly overestimated the amount of water homes are actually using.

Henry Moreida, who lives in the west Houston area, said his water bills have been all over the place for the last few years.

"I've seen fluctuations of anywhere from $50 to like $200, $300," Moreida said of his water bills. "We're pretty even keel as far as our water usage goes."

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The city's tweet is specifically in reference to the readers installed in that area this year, but Moreida wasn't the only person we spoke with in his neighborhood who has experienced billing issues for far longer than a couple of months.

Public works said there are 500,000 meters across Houston that use the part causing the problems in west Houston, and that 20% of them don't work due to age, based on the latest data from February.

They hope to replace most of those 500,000 over the next five years, but said supply-chain issues and manufacturer problems have them behind schedule.

The city had hoped to replace 50,000 of them last year, but only got to around 13,000, according to a presentation assembled for Houston's city council members.

In short, the issue tweeted about in west Houston has the potential to be widespread due to the mass number of dysfunctional readers.

Public works said this is what you need to do if you think this is happening to you, but to keep in mind that they're talking only about wildly-changing bills and not increases due to recent water-rate hikes approved by city council.

They said you need to call their account services team at 713-341-1400 or notify them online at the Houston Public Works website.

Once you've alerted them, they said you need to ask for an administrative review in order to get the high bill investigated.

SEE ALSO: Katy-based company at center of HPD investigation bids to run City of Houston drinking water plant

If the investigation proceeds, you'll avoid having to pay late fees while the situation is being sorted out, but you are required to pay the average cost of your "normally-priced" water bills in order to keep your services from being stopped due to lack of payment.

Moreida said he's done that before, and that it's a hassle for something he didn't have anything to do with - especially since hearings can be involved.

"It's definitely a pain," he said.

The city said their billing is entirely computerized, so they won't know about an equipment-induced billing problem unless you inform them of the issue.

The public works department did send a statement to ABC13, which included an expression of how the situation is frustrating for residents.

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