Los Angeles

One Man's DWP Bill Says He Used 135,000 Gallons of Water in a Month

The 135,000 gallons of water cited on a man's utility bill is about 50 times what most homes use.

Like many, Scott Atkinson uses water -- a dishwasher, a washing machine. He doesn't have much of a yard.

"We have no lawn to water," he said.

But last summer he got a whopping water bill.

"We were shocked, very shocked," he said. "We didn't understand why it could be so high."

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Atkinson used nearly 135,000 gallons of water in one month. That is roughly 50 times what most homes use.

"We told them there was no way we'd used all that water."

But DWP said he did. It said there was likely a leak. Atkinson said a plumber couldn't find one. But that didn't matter to DWP.

"We got nowhere with them," Atkinson said. "We were very mad, very angry."

It told Atkinson to pay up.

"One way he could have used so much water during that month is taking a 30- day shower," said Omer Tamuz, an assistant professor of economics and mathematics at Caltech. "Another option is he has a standard swimming pool and he empties it every two to three days and refills it."

Atkinson did neither. But others report similar large bills. Marcie Loman had a $7,200 bill.

"I freaked," she said. "I looked at it and I looked at it again thinking I was reading it wrong. I absolutely could not believe it."

DWP conceded a meter was misread. It cut Loman's bill in half. But that still meant she was using 100,000 gallons of water a month. A DWP inspector came out a second time and suggested a leak. As to where, the utility didn't know.

"It's tough," said the DWP's Sharon Grove. "We cannot know what's going on on the customer's property. We know what went on in the meter, but it's the customer's property."

Both customers wish the DWP had warned them much earlier that something was wrong.

The agency is no stranger to billing problems. The utility hired someone several years ago to deal with them. The city pays Dr. Fred Pickel $300,000 a year to look out for you as the city ratepayer advocate.

A deputy for Pickel promised that the office would look into the bills. It's not known whether the bills were resolved. Pickel declined a request for an on-camera interview.

"It's very frustrating paying for something we didn't use," Atkinson said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appointed Pickel, told the NBC4 I-Team he has full confidence in him and believes he's doing an "excellent job representing customers' interests."

Atkinson said his water bill went back to normal the next month, but he didn't change a thing.

As for Loman, she changed a seal on her toilet. NBC4 is waiting to hear if that made a difference.

The DWP said a running toilet can leak 3,000 gallons of water a day.

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