Over the Hill

One water issue solved, but another bubbles up

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

I wrote a column last month about the hot water pipe that was leaking secretly in our house’s slab foundation. It started stealthily but finally publicly puddled outdoors next to the slab.

I felt like a major disaster victim for a few days. Then I heard about the Florida man who was swallowed by a sinkhole that opened in his bedroom floor.

I soon, however, pitied myself again. That was because I remembered that the city of Paso Robles, my hometown, has a new billing system for sewers. The city used to charge us a flat $25.86 per month. But now our sewage bills depend on how much sewage we actually drain and flush into the sewer.

But city hall doesn’t have a way to actually measure how much sewage each household contributes. The city doesn’t have sewer meters. It could base our sewer bills on the amount of water we use, but that would be unfair. During our long hot season we put the vast majority of our water onto our yards, not into the sewers.

So to be fair, the city bases our sewer bills on how much water we used during the previous December, January and February. Almost none of us irrigates then. But, my big water leak probably started in January and climaxed in February. In January we were billed for 6,732 gallons of water compared with 5,236 last January. And in February we were billed for 12,716 gallons compared with 5,984 last February.

I was resigned to paying those two unseasonably high water bills, but I panicked at the thought of having our sewer bills for a whole year dictated by that hidden, runaway water leak.

It would be unfair. What could I do? What official should I complain to? What should I say? How could I prove the leak now that it’s fixed?

Would my plumber’s bill and homeowner’s insurance correspondence be enough proof? I nervously phoned the city’s water and sewer customer service line.

A friendly woman answered. I said I had a big water leak earlier this year. Before I could say more she said, “And you’re worried about how it will affect your sewer bill?”

I said, “Yes,” and she said, “We’ll send you an adjustment request form.”

Obviously, I wasn’t the only one. And the city probably won’t need documentation. After all, they know how much water I usually use. What a relief.

But I still have one problem. Ever since the new hot water lines were put in, our water looks cloudy until it stands a few minutes. The plumber and the experts on Google all say the cloudiness is tiny, harmless air bubbles. But, so far, nobody can tell me how to keep the ugly bubbles from appearing.