Unfair fees

Dear Editor:

January provided a ten-day cold streak that included temperatures down to -25F. If you’re a PAWSD customer, and had a water pipe freeze and break during that cold spell, I hope for the sake of your water bill that your pipe broke on a Tuesday. That’s because PAWSD doesn’t monitor their meters for leaks during the weekend or holidays, and the account doesn’t get flagged as leaking until it has had 48 consecutive hours of meter flow.

My home was heated to avoid frozen pipes while I was out of town. Unfortunately, one pipe succumbed to the low temperatures and began gushing on Thursday, Jan. 17, right before a three-day weekend.

In spite of the $1.5 million Firefly system that allows PAWSD to monitor water meters and identify leaks around the clock, it took five days for PAWSD to notify me that 300 gallons per hour were flowing through my meter. Lucky for me, they reached me with the initial call, because PAWSD’s policy is to not turn the water off without the customer’s permission.

What if I had been in Tahiti? Or on a stranded sewage-laden cruise ship? My water would still be running, according to PAWSD.

I lost a total of 39,000 gallons during the five-day leak. My PAWSD bill is $373.20. I am appealing the bill.

The Firefly system was touted as a great benefit to PAWSD and its customers. Here are some excerpts from PAWSD’s marketing material to their customers (who are paying for the system):

“The bottom line is the [Firefly] system is a tremendous benefit to PAWSD and its customers in terms of the services offered (e.g., timely meter reads 365 days a year), time and cost savings, and emergency services.”

“How We Benefit: [Firefly] can alert the District to anomalies such as high usage, leaks, and tampering … Due to the increased efficiency of operations provided by Automated Meter Reading, we estimate that we will save nearly $500,000 per year in related operational costs.”

In spite of the Firefly capabilities and $500,000 savings per year, PAWSD did not monitor the meter flow during a three-day weekend — in the midst of extreme weather that was freezing and breaking water pipes throughout PAWSD’s district.

A broken water pipe is clearly an emergency. Both fires and flooding can do equal damage to a home, but would the Pagosa Fire Department take five days to respond to a fire at my home? Of course not! However, PAWSD, a tax-funded district, does not believe it is responsible for identifying and notifying their customers of a water emergency in an expedient manner.

Should a customer, whose frozen pipe burst, be charged punishing fees when it took five days for PAWSD to notify them, even though PAWSD has the capability to discover the leak and notify the customer within 24 hours?

Cynda Green

This story was posted on February 21, 2013.