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City water department admits misreading meters, will fix bills

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — After an internal review, the City Public Utilities Department has found "misread water meters" resulted in more than 300 customers being incorrectly overcharged for their water usage during the November-December billing period, the PUD stated in a release on Thursday.   

The internal review of higher-than-normal water bills, followed several News 8 "Your Stories" reports on viewers who received skyrocketing bills.   

Citing personnel issues, Public Utilities Department Director Vic Baines wouldn't say how it happened or if it was intentional.  

VIDEO: The most unreadable water meter News 8 has seen yet

The review found that the issues occurred in "concentrated areas due to human error," according to the statement.   

The PUD review reportedly found a pattern of misread water meters in parts of Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Peñasquitos. A review of more than 3,000 meters in those areas identified 343 had been misread.   

The average overcharge for single-family residential customers affected by the misread meters was $303; the overcharges ranged from $186 to $420, city staff said at the City Council Environment Committee meeting.  

Customers will be notified via letter and given a check if the overcharge was more than $50; if it was less a credit will be given.  

"It's very important to the PUD that we deal with this issue," Bianes said. 

Of course, News 8 has heard from viewers who live in other areas and have high bills they can't explain.  

Bianes said his department will continue to investigate cases in other neighborhoods, adding that the issue could be related to a number of factors: council rate increase, the time frame of billings, as well as high-water use in warm months.  

PUD is in the process of conducting checks on all City's meters: 285,000 in total.  

RELATED: Many News 8 viewers see sudden jump in water bill 

The City added that new accountability measures will follow what they are calling an isolated incident:   

The department is implementing several new accountability measures to ensure the accuracy of future bills and affected customers will receive a letter from PUD within the next week informing them of a correction for the November-December billing period. In addition, every water meter in the city will be read with those new oversight procedures over the next 60 days to ensure the accuracy of customers' bills.  

The actions the City said it is implementing include:    

  • Requiring PUD supervisors to personally sign off on daily reports from meter readers  

  • Adding security protocols to ensure that only designated staff have ability to input data  

  • Improving automated alerts that flag unusual spikes in water usage  

  • Adding a second spot check review of meter reads to ensure accuracy  

  • Participating in the independent City Auditor's audit of customer billing issues  

  • Including an informational insert in water bills on how customers can read their own meters and track their water use  

Water customers are encouraged to contact the City with questions or concerns at 619-515-3500 or customercare@sandiego.gov.  

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