‘Check for leaks’: Woman spends months paying down water bill, encourages others to pay attention to spikes
HOPEWELL, Va. (WWBT) - A Hopewell family called “12 On You Side” after their water bill reached more than $1,000.
Jen Carter says she noticed her water usage change drastically last fall and she struggled to keep up with the water bill.
It started when a bill came showing the Carters used more than 1,700 gallons of water a day in one month.
“It went from a $86 bill, to $300, $500,” said Carter. “I was like ‘Oh my God.’ I kept calling them. Then from September to October, the gallons we used was 628, you see the drastic change.”
With those drastic changes in water usage, and a rising utility bill, the family ended up getting behind in payments. In the end, the Carters owed Virginia American Water more than $1,700. Carter says she first reached out to the company for help.
“They told me that the most they could give me was credit for was 2 months of the water and that was $300,” she explained.
Around the time of the high water bill, Virginia American Water would come to their house, leaving notes about a possible leak in the home. Carter says they never found anything.
The family says they were hit hard during COVID. Carter’s husband was out of work for months, and money was tight. Eventually, they got behind enough for the water service to be disconnected.
“We weren’t able to cook, we weren’t able to shower, we couldn’t use the toilet,” she explained.
To pay the bill down, Carter’s family came up with $600 on their own and got help from community resources.
“Like CAPUP, they agreed to pay a portion. They paid $500 and we reached out to St. Anne’s Catholic’s Church. They paid $400,” she explained.
Nearly a year later, Carter still had an outstanding balance of about $100.
“I got lucky and I spoke to another lady and she reviewed my account and gave me another provisional credit of $60,” she said.
The On Your Side Investigators first reached out to Virginia American Water with questions in early May, the company later writing in a statement: “This customer was notified multiple times and as early as October of 2021 that there was a leak on their side that was causing the high usage and that it is their responsibility to make the repair.”
American Water says If you receive a water bill that seems unusually high, immediately check for leaks. The company says some of the most common indoor leaks are in toilets and faucets.
It’s not as common, but your shower, tub or dishwasher could also be leaking. The company says it also offers an H2O, Help to Others Program. If you qualify, it offers grants of up to $500 per year.
The program offers grants of up to $500 per year for customers who qualify. Since the program was first launched in 2010, Virginia American Water has provided $38,669 in water assistance grants to 220 households. Grants are funded through a corporate donation and customer and employee donations.
To be eligible for the program, grant recipients must have received a utility shutoff notice or have already had service disconnected. Recipients must also have made a sincere effort to pay the bill (at least $50 on the outstanding water bill in the past 90 days), applied for all open and available state and federal programs, and have a household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines. A grant from this program may not cover the recipient’s entire water bill.
Virginia American Water says it is important to call a plumber if you don’t find anything yourself. The company says even a hole the size of the dot in a home’s water system can waste more than 4,000 gallons of fresh water in a month.
Today, without ever finding the true source of the leak, or making repairs, Carter says their utility bills are back down to $40 or $50 a month. They plan to pay off the remaining balance before the end of July.
She hopes her family’s story will remind others to closely check what comes in the mail. Carter is also glad she reached out to as many community resources as possible.
“It’s a mystery as to why we paid so much money,” Carter said. “Pay attention to your utility bills. Don’t always think everything is going to be fine, or it is going to be the same, because you never know.”
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