By LANDON WOODROOF
Water leaks can be a costly problem for homeowners, especially since it is easy for them to go unnoticed.
If an underground pipe bursts in your front yard, you might not know it until you see your next water bill and shudder.
That is what happened to Brentwood resident Brent Turner last year, as he recounted at a December 11 City Commission meeting. A water leak caused him to rack up a $3,800 water bill.
At Monday night’s City Commission meeting, another Brentwood resident, Renee Bielski, told a story about a nearly $2,700 water bill she received last year.
The City of Brentwood has a policy to lessen the financial burden of homeowners and city water customers afflicted by such leaks. In light of repeated instances of high water bills, though, city staff and City Commissioners have discussed a new water billing adjustment policy that would be more generous to homeowners.
That policy is expected to be on the next City Commission agenda later this month. Monday night, though, commissioners voted to approve on first reading an amendment to the city’s municipal code that clears the way for that new policy.
City Manager Kirk Bednar explained the city’s current water leak adjustment policy at a January 4 City Commission briefing.
Basically, for an incident to qualify as a leak the volume of water lost must be at least 50 percent greater than the customer’s three-month water usage average from the same period the prior year. Any usage above that average is billed at 50 percent of the retail rate.
This policy lowered Turner’s bill by $1,678 and Bielski’s by roughly $1,300. That is still a lot left over to pay, though.
The new policy would leave customers in a better financial situation.
“For any excessive usage due to a leak that was unknown to the person, we would bill that at half of the lowest volume tier, but even after that we would cap it at twice what their calculated normal bill would be,” Bednar said at last week’s City Commission briefing.
Monday night, Bednar said that this new policy, if adopted later this month, would lower Bielski’s to $350.
The agenda item approved Monday night stripped out a lot of the specific language around water billing adjustments in the current city code. In its place, it inserted language giving the City Commission the ability to adopt a separate water billing adjustment policy.
“It’s kind of a procedural step to make the code a little simpler and allow us to adopt it by resolution,” Bednar said.
Of course, the billing policy is only relevant for Brentwood residents who get their water from the city.
At the January 4 City Commission briefing, Water Services Director Chris Milton said the city had about 11,000 water customers. Many of those are located in the more central parts of the city. Most residents along Brentwood’s western edge get their water from the Harpeth Valley Utilities District. In the southern part of the city, many residents are Mallory Valley Utility District customers. On the east side of Brentwood, many get their water from the Nolensville College Grove Utility District or from Metro Water Services.
Water leaks are not rare occurrences in Brentwood. In January, city staff said 356 customer billing adjustments were made between July 1, 2016 and Dec. 7, 2017. Most adjustments were not anywhere near the bills that Turner and Bielski eventually received. In fact, the average bill adjustment was $222.39. The smallest adjustment was for $9.92.
Customers who got these smaller billing adjustments may not notice a big change if the new policy is adopted.
“For some people it won’t make a difference it will be the same,” Bednar said last week. “For the big, big leaks it will significantly reduce” the bill.
The city is taking an additional step to try to improve residents’ water leak issues. Automated smart water meters have been installed in newly constructed homes for the past several years. The city is now working on switching out older homes’ meters with these newer ones.
Once fully implemented, these meters “will identify leaks much quicker so we don’t have a leak that the homeowner doesn’t know about continuing for several weeks,” Bednar said in January.
Bielski noted Monday night that her home is equipped with one of these smart meters, yet it did not catch the problem. While emphasizing that he could not speak specifically about her water meter, Bednar explained that the new city meters work by transmitting data to communication towers in the city, not all of which are fully operational as of yet. As a result, not all of the new meters can yet communicate with the city as intended.
The amendment approved on first reading Monday night will be considered on a second and final reading at the City Commission’s next meeting on February 26, along with the new billing adjustment policy.
The City of Brentwood charges for water based on volume. The first 2,000 gallons cost $12.21. The next 8,000 gallons a customer may use are billed at $4.28 per 1,000 gallons. Once you get over 10,000 gallons, every 1,000 gallons is billed at $6.21.