WSSC water bills jump up to five times higher than usual

LAUREL, MD (WJLA) -- The phone has been ringing off the hook at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

"We're hearing from a lot of customers that their bill is high and they don't understand why," says Lyn Riggins, spokeswoman for the WSSC.

WSSC is not the only one hearing from angry water customers.

"People are calling us, emailing us, and saying, 'Councilmember Berliner, my bill is normally $200. This bill was $1,100 - I can't pay that bill. What is going on here?'" says Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner.

WSSC blames the brutal winter weather.

"Our meter readers are behind. They have not been able to get to meters that have been buried under snow and as a result customers are getting billed for a longer-than-normal billing cycle," Riggins says.

Some customers are being billed for up to 30 additional days, which alone would produce a bill up to 30 percent higher, Riggins says. But that's not all.

In addition to the longer billing cycle, Riggins contends that all the snow days add to the water bill.

"If you're home from work and your kids are home from school, you're in the house - you're probably using more water than you normally use," Riggins says.

"More toilet flushing, more loads of laundry, more loads of dishes and before you know it, you could use a couple of extra hundred gallons of water in a week," Riggins says.

Berliner isn't entirely convinced.

"You can't explain this by saying, 'Gee, there was a lot of snow. People were home and they were using more water,'" he says.

"Really, I don't think if they were running six bath tubs every day it would justify these kinds of bills."

Berliner forwarded to WSSC a stack of customer complaints he received.

"Something is really wrong here and they need to figure it out fast," he says.

Riggins recommends customers with unusually high bills examine the bill and look in the upper left corner for the ADC, the Average Daily Consumption.

"You might not think that being home a few extra days, here and there, can drive up your bill, but it really can," she says.

Berliner says WSSC has promised to investigate each of the complaints that he has sent them to determine exactly why the bills are so high.

What WSSC is doing in response

In response to the longer billing cycle and higher than usual bills for some customers, WSSC said Thursday it is making immediate operational changes, including increased meter readings and payment options for customers.

Specifically, WSSC says it will be:

• Reading meters seven days a week, including evenings

• Extending the bill payment "deadline" by a month for customers who make the request and demonstrate a need

• Providing a billing arrangement for those with higher than normal bills

Those who have questions understanding their bill or who would like to request special paying arrangements should call the Customer Relations staff at 301-206-4001. Agents are available Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and the automated system is available 24/7, they said.