"Show us your Manhole" campaign against Austin Water

Austin Water will soon be under more scrutiny. A campaign is being launched this week to keep track of meter readings.

This comes as hundreds of customers continue to fight skyrocketing rates.

The campaign is called "Show us your Manhole." One councilman wants to give residents a hands-on approach to fighting the high water bill issue: snap a picture of your meter.

Allendale resident Lisa Rose has plenty of chores around the house. She didn't think checking her water meter would become one of them.

"For me to open this up, it's really a two man job. I wouldn't be doing it every day. I don't know if I can stay on top of it," says Lisa Rose, Allendale resident.

Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman has received hundreds of high water bill complaints.
His theory is that meters aren't being read on a monthly basis.

"We only have 35 meter readers and we have over 230,000 meters. If you do the math on that, it doesn't make sense that only 35 people in 20 days are going to read over 230,000 meters," says Don Zimmerman, Austin City Council, District 6.

As a result, he drafted a resolution in hopes of getting refunds for customers. It was shot down by city legal staff right before the Public Utility Committee meeting last week.

"They argued that under the law, we are not allowed to refund any overages, unless we could prove that there is some factual or procedural error. We were a little frustrated. I guess I agree with that, because there is no way to distinguish someone who deliberately uses two or three times more water versus someone who gets an unexpected spike on their bill," says Zimmerman.

Before next month's meeting, two things are on Zimmerman's list:
Conducting audits on several of the highest water bills - from getting expertise from plumbers to finding the person who conducted the meter-read.
A campaign is also being launched where residents will be asked to send in photos.

"The burden of proof is on the water customer, to prove that the water utility has done something wrong. That's not something we were prepared to do. I mean, if people knew this would be coming, they would have been taking cell phone photographs of their meter during the last 6 months," says Zimmerman.

"I appreciate everything that he's doing. Absolutely, but it feels hopeless," says Rose.

Since August, Austin Water has received more than 10,000 high bill complaints from customers all over the city. The utility company continues to say their billing and meter system are functioning properly.

"I'm in a catch-22 situation because I'm trying to get more cooperation from the city to investigate the problem and I can't get that. So if the city is profiting from these water spikes, where's the incentive for them to help me find the procedural error?" says Zimmerman.

Rose was recently contacted by Austin Water but she says nothing was resolved.
Her past bill was still higher than normal.

A Facebook page is being made for residents to submit their meter photos.
For an update on when it will be launched go here: