MOUNT CARMEL - When Jessika Meyer opened her latest water bill, she got quite a shock.

It showed the Dooleyville resident, who moved to the area from New Jersey in December, used 32,600 gallons of water between Feb. 5 and March 5 and owed $350.91.

"I couldn't believe when I saw it," Meyer said. "There was no way I used that much water."

She was right, but it took a few phone calls and some help from The News-Item to get things straightened out.

1,164 gallons a day

The bill from Aqua Pennsylvania, dated March 7, showed her average daily usage of 1,164 gallons, which took the total from 8,500 gallons when her meter was read on Feb. 5 to 41,100 gallons by March 5.

Aqua Pennsylvania charges a $16 fee for service and a rate of nine-tenths of a cent for the first 2,000 gallons of water, reported on Meyer's bill to be $18.14. The rest of the water on Meyer's bill, 30,600 gallons, costs a little more than a penny a gallon, adding $316.77 to the $18.14 and $16 for a total of $350.91.

Just moving into the home a few months ago, she lives with her dog, Isis, but says her habits do not support using that much water.

"I don't have a washer or dryer here," said Meyer, who is eight months pregnant. "I'm splitting my time between living here and New Jersey where my boyfriend is at. I take showers at my mom's house, mostly use paper plates and drink bottled water. Doing all that, how did I use 32,000 gallons of water in a month?

Searching for answers

Meyer contacted Aqua in search of an explanation. The company dispatched a technician on March 14 who found no evidence of a leak at her home.

He checked the meter, which showed that in the nine days since the March 5, Meyer had used approximately 600 gallons - an average daily use of 66 gallons, far under her 1,164 a day from the prior month.

"The technician said to me that a family of five doesn't use that much water like my bill said, even when they fill a 5-foot deep (swimming) pool," she said.

Armed with that information, Meyer contacted Aqua's customer service division seeking help in having the bill adjusted. She said the woman she spoke with wasn't sympathetic.

"They told me whatever the amount was, it had to be paid before they can launch an investigation to possibly give me a credit," she said.

With a March 29 payment looming, and concerned her water would be shut off, she contacted The News-Item for help.

Problem solved

Donna Alston, director of communications for Aqua Pennsylvania, looked into the matter at The News-Item's request. She said the problem stemmed from the 911 readdressing taking place in Northumberland County. Meter readings from Meyer's bill and that of another residential customer were mixed, resulting in the extremely high, but incorrect, gallon usage and subsequent charge, Alston said.

Alston said only two accounts were affected and Aqua had fixed the problem by Tuesday afternoon.

She said based on the meter reading done by the technician on March 14, Meyer will be given a credit for all consumption of water over 2,000 gallons and issued an abatement for $316.77.

Alston also said a courtesy hold was placed on the account, so Meyer will not incur any late penalties.

She was happy about the good news.

"I'm so grateful for all the help I got to get this all straightened out," Meyer said. "It's a big relief to have that burden lifted."

Teaching lesson

Beyond the billing mixup, Alston noted Meyer owed from December because she hadn't contacted Aqua upon moving into her home.

"Just because your electric or water is running at your new residence, or, in this case, you move into a new home that is still in your utility's coverage area, don't assume we know about the switch," Alston said. "You should always contact your utility company and register with them."

Meyer said she thought her mother had signed up for water service and was getting the bill until she received the mixed up March bill.