May 14, 2007

Water Customer Accidentally Charged $1.5 Million on Bill

A city employee in Boulder, Colo., misread a digit on a water meter, leading to a customer receiving a bill for $1.5 million.

According to Rocky Mountain News, before the mistake was spotted, utility officials believed that their revenues were up more than 50 percent for the first quarter. Others assumed that perhaps the new water billing system was faulty.

Water meters are usually read electronically, but when the system fails (about 1 percent of the time) the meters are read manually.

Ned Williams, Boulder’s utilities chief, told Rocky Mountain News that the city has systems in place to flag down bills that are abnormally high. However, in this case where the amount was 500 times the normal amount, too many human errors led to the number going unnoticed.

The bill has brought about questions regarding the city’s method of charging its water customers. The new system was put in place to encourage conservation, and has also changed the way that customers are charged for the amount of water that they use.

Customers were previously allocated water based on the amount they used during winter months. During the summer, customers could use up to 3 1/2 times that amount, but they would have to pay a higher rate for every gallon of water they used above that amount.

A large amount of customers have complained that the city no longer gives them enough water. However, City Manager Frank Bruno told Rocky Mountain News that it is too soon to tell whether the new water billing system is working as intended.