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Billing problem forces review of thousands of Oahu water bills

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Jun 25 2013 06:42:21 PM HST
Updated On: Jun 25 2013 08:32:18 PM HST

Have you been paying too much or maybe not not enough?

HONOLULU -

Every day a small army of 14 meter-readers hits the road.

Some, like Keith Chinen, read your water meter by driving by your home.

"All the ones that have turned red are the ones I have readings for. All these green ones are the ones that we have to go and read," Chinen said.

Chinen reads about 4,000 meters a day.

They are at addresses programmed into his laptop.

“After we do the reading we load it into the computer will tell us which ones that didn't work and we will have to take those who didn’t work, and put them into follow-up routes and those guys will go out and manually go out to get the readings," said Chinen.

The Board of Water Supply said that, currently, 2 percent of meters need to be estimated due to no meter reads.

Battery-operated devices located underground allow meter readers to read the signal remotely.

But failing batteries forced the agency to turn to a mass replacement program earlier this year.

Staffing shortages compounded the problem.

The department responsible for reviewing the readings when they are too high or too low is shorthanded.

So when there is nobody to sign off on the readings, the computer estimates your water use.

In addition to that, thousands of batteries in the devices that help workers read the meters were failing, and were replaced earlier this year.

In May, roughly 26,000 customers received estimated bills.

That’s 16 percent of the customers.

It is something the Board of Water Supply’s chief engineer is not happy about.

"It's definitely more than I would like. And I would like to apologize if you have an estimated bill. Either you will have to pay more money, sometimes a large amount of money. Or you have been overpaying, and you are due a refund from the Board of Water Supply," said Ernest Lau.

One Kailua family was shocked when it received a bill for almost $2,000 . Its previous bills fluctuated wildly and it seemed a mystery to users as to exactly why.

Earlier this month, Waipio resident Karl Dicks was so bothered by his high bills, he took to reading and documenting his actual water usage for almost two months.

“I read it every day at 7 o'clock,” said Dicks.

Lau acknowledged in some cases there are customers who received estimated bills erroneously -- in some cases up to five months.

Lau says he has redeployed staff to start reviewing the bills of the affected customers. 

"I think right now we are at a place with these 26,000 estimated bills, that we don’t want to be here ever again," Lau said.

Lau says it could take a couple of billing cycles before the adjustments are made.

If you have a problem with your water bill you should contact the Board of Water Supply.

But be warned, the daily call volume is in the thousands. You can also email your concerns.

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