News / Calgary

City of Calgary forgives mysteriously high water bills

Diane Colley-Urquhart said she doesn’t buy the City’s explanation that people are consuming thousands of dollars more water in the summer months

Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters about water billing policy changes the City of Calgary and Enmax announced Wednesday, including that customers will not have to pay for unexplained spikes in use.

ELIZABETH CAMERON / Calgary Freelance

Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters about water billing policy changes the City of Calgary and Enmax announced Wednesday, including that customers will not have to pay for unexplained spikes in use.

Sky-high Enmax water bills will be forgiven and customers won’t have to negotiate payments in the future if no explanation for a significant jump in use can be found, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced Wednesday.

An independent assessment of the City’s metering and billing systems will also be done to absolutely confirm there are no issues, the Mayor said.

“It’s not a free ride to run your toilet forever, but if you see one of these mysterious spikes and it goes away, the easiest thing to do is forgive the bill and then figure out what’s going on,” Nenshi said.

Going forward, if Enmax detects a problem, such as a leaky toilet, and it’s fixed in a "reasonable amount of time," the customer will be billed based on their average monthly use, the mayor said.

If Enmax can’t figure out what’s causing the leak, Nenshi promised they will work with the customer to figure out what’s going on and once fixed, the customer doesn’t have to pay additional charges beyond their regular bill amount.

“And if none of us can identify the problem, you don’t have to pay the big bill and we will monitor it going forward,” Nenshi said. “You won’t have to negotiate with Enmax or the City if you’re in this situation, you’ll just pay what your monthly usage is.”

Calgary resident Verginia Ghobrial-Said previously told Metro about a water utility bill for $4,070.44 she received in May, a huge increase compared to her regular bills.
In an email that Ghobrial-Said provided to Metro, Enmax said after an investigation, nothing was wrong with her meter and it ‘is unfortunate that this is an undetermined high consumption.’
Enmax did reduce the bill by 30 per cent – roughly $1,000 – leaving Ghobrial-Said with a total of $2,800 left to pay and a lot of resentment towards the utility company.
She told Metro the entire situation was ‘humiliating.'
Similar stories have been emerging throughout the summer, prompting the City and Enmax to launch an investigation earlier this week. It uncovered no issues, Nenshi said.
The City of Calgary and ENMAX previously said in a joint statement that fluctuations in water use are not uncommon and they take ‘great care’ to ensure metering and billing systems are accurate.
Nenshi said Enmax will be contacting people in Ghobrial-Said’s situation proactively to let them know their bill will be waived, but did not say how far back the forgiveness will extend.
On Wednesday, before the mayor’s announcement, Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart announced she would submit a notice of motion to council asking the City to waive the bills and investigate.
The notice of motion, dated September 11, 2017, asks the city to examine options for an arms-length oversight and appeals process and report back to the City’s Utilities and Corporate Services Standing Policy Committee in the first quarter of 2018.
It also asks how much it would cost to provide free water-consumption inspections to Calgarians.
Nenshi applauded Colley-Urquhart for bringing the motion forward, but said he thinks the new policy changes mean creating an arms-length appeals process isn’t necessary.
“I feel like the expense of that is unnecessary, but I’m happy to have a chat about it … I’d rather just forgive the bills,” Nenshi said.
Colley-Urquhart, who has been a councillor for 17 years, told Metro she doesn’t believe that people are consuming as much water as some bills have reflected.
“I do recall people having a water bill that was maybe a few hundred dollars more, but absolutely nothing like this,” she said.
“For the average citizen, they don't want bureaucracy, they just want this to be addressed.”

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