Water bill frustrations spill over in LongCreek Plantation community in Blythewood

Several neighbors in one Blythewood community tell WIS they’ve never seen their water bills this high.
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 2:45 PM EDT
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BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (WIS) - Several neighbors in one Blythewood community tell WIS they’ve never seen their water bills this high.

Several neighbors reached out to us with bills that were triple or even quadruple their normal expected rate. One woman told us she had a bill 10x her normal rate.

Jennifer Fleetwood said her latest water bill for her Westlake Woods home was more than $550.

“It’s more than triple any bill we had ever had before,” Fleetwood said.

We visited with Fleetwood and another neighbor in the nearby Windermere neighborhood, Gary D’Andrea. He showed us his latest bill too. It was almost $300. His prior month cost him just $70.

“It’s very frustrating ...it’s very frustrating,” D’Andrea said. “I thought it was very strange because we started watering and irrigation … I figured ok, something went wrong but there was never anything to explain why it was so low.”

When we compiled several bills from customers -- we saw a common trend. The bills were artificially low and then artificially high. We took that question to Assistant City Manager for Columbia Water, Clint Shealy. He told us customers need to check their bill to see if their meter sent an “actual” reading or an “estimated” reading.

That’s because starting in 2019, the city began upgrading all old water meters with new digital readers. Rather than a city utility worker physically checking your meter, cell service now transmits that data. Shealy said these new readers should make for more accurate readings. But, if you do get an “E” for estimated on your monthly bill, the system calculates your average consumption of the past 12 months. Once the actual data goes through, you’ll likely see a big spike in your next month’s bill.

“It catches all of that consumption for the actual bill and the estimated bill,” said Shealy. “When you get an estimated bill, you may see some bill differential from one bill to the next, particularly if you’re an irrigating customer and you’ve been irrigating heavily.”

On top of the price differential, customers also said the wait time for the Columbia water call center was unusually long. D’Andrea said he was on hold for what felt like forever, and Fleetwood said she tried several times and had to hang up due to time constraints each time.

We took that concern to Shealy as well.

“Our call answer times are not where we want them to be,” he said. “We apologize for any inconvenience there. I know that can be frustrating when you’re trying to call our call center.”

Shealy said the call center is experiencing an unprecedented call volume, high vacancies due to labor shortages and COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

When we left the City’s water department after our interview, D’Andrea received a call.

“After contacting you and WIS, a representative from the water company did call,” D’Andrea said. “We talked at length and he walked me through the new app where you can manage your water.”

The app called “Eye on Water” gives you the same access to your consumption data as the water department. D’Andrea said after walking through his usage with the water department, he’s already made some changes to his irrigation system at home to minimize any additional cost.

To create your Eye on Water account and track your consumption habits, just head to this link: https://columbiascwater.eyeonwater.com/signin

If you need additional assistance, you can call the Columbia Water Call Center, open 24/7 at 1 (803) 545-3300.

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