Updated:ATLANTA,None - After continued complaints of mistakes and misreads by Atlanta Watershed management's metering system, Channel 2 Action News found a way to double check measurements at three metro homes.
The homeowners are convinced that they've been billed for water they didn't use and for expensive sewage fees that automatically get tacked on.
"How would you describe your water bills?" Channel 2 Action News consumer investigator Jim Strickland asked Carolyn Jones. "Too high. Excessive," Jones said.
"Two and a third's higher than they were a year ago," said homeowner Peachy Horne of Loring Heights.
"I was pretty much told, 'Look, it's your problem. It's not ours,'" recalls Laura Diamond of Collier Hills.
Each agreed to participate in a Channel 2 Action News water project. Channel 2 also recruited contractor Mr. Plumber, and veteran technician Jeff Markham.
"Lately, there have been a lot of complaints," said Markham about his clients and their water bills.
Markham installed a second water meter in each home; in a spot where every drop of would get measured twice.
(5 p.m.) Ch. 2 Investigates Meter Reading Complaints (6 p.m.) City Explains Water Meter Errors
"You can match numbers against each other to make sure they're reading the same gallonage," he explained.
Diamond got the first meter. She read it daily around the time of the month Atlanta Watershed was scheduled to read the street meter.
"Clearly there's a problem," she concluded from the results.
Diamond's home is for sale and unoccupied. After her occasional visits, our meter read only 50 gallons used, during the cycle when Atlanta Watershed billed her for 1,800 cubic feet of water. That equates to 13,464 gallons.
"I now have proof that what the city is telling me is wrong," said Diamond.
Atlanta Watershed Management's CFO Jim Beard told Strickland about Diamond's case.
"It appears that the register that was attached to her meter somehow failed," Beard said.
Beard said the actual meter was working, but the top section which transmits the reading was on the fritz. While awaiting repairs, computers estimated Diamond's December and January usage.
"Where did it come up with the 18 when the month before was only 4?" asked Strickland.
"It's a mathematical program that looks at historic usage," explained Beard.
Beard said the system looked at Diamond's earlier high readings and spit out a high estimate.
"That's one of our latest challenges: to look at the math behind these estimates and come up with a better formula to get it closer to accurate," said Beard.
Beard emphasized that the reading on the meter face was accurate, and that only its transmission function was damaged.
The estimates taken during the outage were influenced by several earlier high bills which Diamond has questioned.
After having received an actual reading of only 3,000 gallons in August 2010, her vacant home's September reading was more than 10 times greater. The city meter claimed the home was using more than 1,000 per day during the period.
"What that tells me is I'm not actually getting billed for what I'm using, which as a consumer is alarming," said Diamond.
Strickland obtained records showing Atlanta Watershed inspected Diamond's meter twice after inconsistent readings in June and September and found no problems.
"You're confident this meter is accurate?" Strickland asked Beard.
"In this particular case, I'm fairly confident that the meter is accurately reflecting the usage at the property," he responded.
The city later discovered Diamond's meter hadn't moved since November.
Her February bill reflected no usage and a balance $350 lower than the month before.
Homeowners Carolyn Jones and Peachy Horne got completely different results than Diamond. Their test meters were statistically in line with the street meters.
"I'm confident that it's not resolved, and that I can get a $500 bill tomorrow," said a disappointed Jones.
"Are you disappointed?" Strickland asked Horne.
"Yes," Horne said.
"Are you convinced that the city's meter is always right?" Strickland asked.
"Maybe," said Horne.