LEANDER, Texas - The water leak at Beth Irwin's home in Leander went undetected for weeks.
Like her water meter, the problem spun out of control where her typical monthly bill of about $60 grew to $1,700. "The system failed, because if it’s failing for me, its failing for everybody," said Irwin.
Irwin gets her water from the City of Leander. Back in November, the utility department noticed a spike in usage and sent a worker to check it out. The increase is noted on her bill. But the problem was, she didn't get the bill until December and she had to ask for it.
"I've had no email, no phone call, no notice on my door, that's where it didn't make sense to me in the middle of a drought they are not letting customers know of excess usage," said Irwin.
While the leak in her yard was eventually repaired, Irwin now wants the disconnection policy fixed. She believes some type of early fail safe notification, beyond leaving a red tag, is needed.
"It was a blindside, and I got the phone call after 5:00 after they closed on a Friday, I got an automated phone call, so clearly they have some automated systems, that the water was to be shut off, I immediately called and once again left a voice mail, one of many I had left for the company, and said please don’t shut my water off, this is under protest, it’s been repaired and we are waiting to see what happens, please don’t shut my water off, and on Wednesday I came home to the water shut off," said Irwin.
The shut off order wasn't stopped, according to Irwin, because a utility staff member was out with a sick child. "Automated processes should not depend on last-minute decisions," said Irwin.
In a statement sent to FOX 7 Austin, Leander City Manager Rick Beverlin said the situation was "unfortunate" and they will adjust Irwin's bill. He went on to say:
"We regularly evaluate our process for notifying customers of changes or issues, and we always try to work with residents who may experience hardship as a result. Although we believe this case was unique, we will review the incident to identify improvements to our protocols and help prevent similar issues in the future," state Beverlin.
"The manner in which water is delivered to individual Texas homes is as diverse as the state itself," said Andrew Barlow, with the Texas Public Utility Commission.
Barlow said the agency does not regulate municipal utilities. But they do set guidelines, and consumers do have the right to ask for changes in policy. "Let them know your concerns and then stick with it until you get resolution," said Barlow.
Barlow says it would be up to state lawmakers to set a basic disconnect standard. Without one, that policy will continue under local control.