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Calera barely budges on customer's whopping $1,500 water bill

Water leak caused big bill

Some water systems are not very forgiving when it comes to high water bills caused by leaks. A Calera couple called Fighting For You after they got hit with a $1,500 water/sewer bill.

We checked with a number of other water systems finding they all had very different policies. Calera is the last place you'd want to have a big leak. While others give adjustments liberally to help customers, Calera offers very little. You can only get a one time $200 adjustment even if the leak is through no fault of your own.

And if a meter reader notices high usage which may be from a leak, there is no policy to inform the customer so they can get it quickly repaired. This is very important because bills sometimes don't get to the customer until weeks after a reading.

However in cities like Alabaster you would fair much better. Management tells us if a meter reader notices an issue, an attempt to knock on the door to personally speak to the customer is made. If no one is home, a door hanger is put on the door to alert the customer to call. The board office will also make a courtesy call. Adjustments are made if the "leak did not enter the sewer system. Adjustments are not made for leaking/running toilets or leaking/dripping faucets." You are allowed one adjustment per year with no maximum dollar amount.

In Calera, Craig Corwin and his wife live on 20 acres of land in unincorporated Shelby County. Problems with their well water sprang up a year and a half ago so they decided to hook up to the Calera water system.

A contractor laid lines up the long driveway tapping into the city system. Then last August a major glitch when a leak was found at the barn. The contractor repaired it and paid the steep $800 water bill.

Then a month and a half later the meter reader told Corwin they were "losing water like crazy." Corwin said the meter reader noticed it three weeks prior but said nothing. The Corwins questioned why they weren't told immediately when they could of fixed it instead of having to wait until the shocking $1,500 bill arrived. "That's not a good practice; not good customer service," remarked Corwin.

We went to city hall with Corwin. The clerk and mayor told us their only recourse was a one time $200 credit. An appeal to the water board failed Monday night.

So now Corwin has a daily chore: climbing up a hill at the road turning into his property to check his meter himself to be sure he hasn't sprung another leak.

Here's a sample of other policies we found in the metro area:

*Birmingham Water Works will forgive usage caused by leaks up to twice a year. You have to provide a plumber's invoice.

*Bessemer Water and Shelby County Water leave notices on the door if they see a high reading to alert the customer.

*Bessemer customers can get a one time credit if they have a new plumbing system put in. Otherwise they will only adjust the sewer portion which is the biggest part of the bill in Jefferson County.

*Shelby County will cut the water bill to the wholesale rate if you can prove a repair was made. A superintendent will verify that repair.The adjustment is allowed once a year.

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