Unusually high meter readings and odd-tasting water, not to mention a substantial rate increase, have Georgetown Municipal Water and Sewer Service customers seeing red.
GMWSS and other central Kentucky water utilities are blaming extreme heat and a lack of rain to blame for tap water tasting or smelling funny.
But a spike in usage in some customers’ bills, some as much as double or triple the normal amount, has left people asking what is going on.
“There are two water related issues that we are discussing at the same time, “ said Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather. “And it has led to ‘why am I paying this much for water that doesn’t taste good.’”
Nothing has really changed — except the rate customers are paying, said GMWSS General Manager Chase Azevedo.
“We do read the meters every month. They are radio read meters,” he said trying to explain the hike in some bills. “Other than higher usage due to watering yards and gardens, washing cars in the summer, I don’t know of any reason that would lead to a spike like that unless there is a leak.”
That explanation does not answer the concerns of some customers who have seen their usage rise unexpectedly, even though they do not have a pool, they don’t water their lawns and they haven’t washed their cars.
“I took the dollar amount from the rate increase out of the equation and focused on usage,” said Tony Vowels, a Canewood resident. His usage from April to August ranged from a low of 2,790 gallons to 4,520 gallons. In September, his bill showed he used 7,400 gallons, he said.
“I started asking and come to find out a lot of people were saying their usage doubled, and in some cases tripled,” Vowels said. “We haven’t changed our lifestyle from last year, which was similar conditions.”
Last summer, Vowel’s water usage ranged from 2,140 gallons to 3,870 gallons, he said.
“I called and they said did you fill a pool. I don’t have a pool. They said you must have watered your lawn. I haven’t and showed them a picture of my lawn. They sent a representative and did a meter test. It passed that and passed a leak test,” Vowels said. “So I’m still asking how did my usage doubled? If it was just me, I might buy that. But it’s not just me and the consensus is that people aren’t doing anything different. They said I’m already at 6,000 gallons for this month and they said there must be a leak. They confirmed there wasn’t a leak.”
John Morris who lives in the Colony suppled the News-Graphic with 13 pages of various social media posts from people across the county telling a similar story.
“We capture our water under the sink and use that to water our flowers, so we don’t use excessive water,” Morris said. “I wonder about those who can’t pay their bills. The homeless trying to get on their feet. How are they ever going to get on their feet? Wages are flat but things keep going up.”
Many people in his neighborhood are on fixed incomes, so he is concerned how they are going to manage such an increase in their water bills, Morris said.
Meters are tested from time to time, Azevedo said.
A lack of rainfall is likely to blame for the odd taste and smell of the tap water as many area cities are dealing with similar complaints. Frankfort Plant Board and Kentucky American Water, along with GMWSS, have each put out advisories explaining stagnant water has led to musky or mildewy odors in the water.
GMWSS’ water comes from the Royal Spring aquifer, which has been running extremely low.
“When it gets to a certain level, we stop production and let it recharge,” Azevedo said of Royal Spring. “We have stopped withdrawing water from it four times in the last month and a half, and each time it takes longer to recharge.”
When water is not taken from the aquifer, GMWSS purchases water from Frankfort Plant Board or Kentucky American Water, which gets its water from the Kentucky River. That water pool has also gotten stagnant which has allowed for nutrients and algae to build up. GMWSS treats the water with algaecide and carbon, but it still can taste off, Azevedo said.
“When it is stagnant, it isn’t going to taste as good, no matter how much you treat it with,” he said. “We have gotten calls about odors from Royal Spring, but there is nothing wrong. The water is just sitting there in the hot sun.”
Prather asked Azevedo several times if the water is safe despite the smell, he said.
“It is safe to drink, cook, bathe and brush your teeth,” Azevedo said. “But because of the source water, there is only so much you can do about the water.”
Both of them said the rumor that the water from Frankfort is under a boil advisory is not true. The plant from which Georgetown gets its water from is not under a boil advisory.
Once cooler weather and some rain falls, things should return to normal, Azevedo said.
“We need a sustained rain to get water moving again,” Azevedo said. “Historically, water usage tends to go down once the temperature cools off and the summer dry period ends.”
Customers who believe their water bills are inaccurate should contact GMWSS, which has a policy that allows for necessary adjustments, he said.
“The customer would be eligible for an adjustment if they meet certain criteria in that policy,” Azevedo said. “They can come or call in and we can walk them through the steps of that policy. I’ve been here year-and-a-half and there was one customer we just could not get them through the policy. The plumber looked at her side and we looked at our side and could not find anything.”
The policy requires the homeowner to have a plumber inspect the home to determine if there is a leak that may have caused the high usage. If a leak is located then it is up to the customer to have it fixed. Otherwise, they can contact the water company.
“I would suggest a customer contact us or come in and we can walk them through the policy and what they need to do,” Azevedo said.
Steve McClain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.