New audit spotlights Watershed problems

9:12 PM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- A new City of Atlanta audit of Atlanta Watershed Management shows billing and water meter issues are improving but still have a long way to go. 

For almost a decade, the 11Alive Help Desk has been directly involved in sorting out customer issues with Watershed and finding solutions to what seemed like a never ending litany of issues.

The question is whether this latest audit will straighten things out? 

After years of faulty water meters, skyrocketing water bills and customer complaints the Atlanta Watershed Management hopes to get it right, at least that's what the top city auditor says after completing her seventh audit of Watershed in a dozen years. 

Taking the spotlight is sticker shock when skyrocketing water bills arrive at your front door. 

Atlanta auditors hope that will change quickly. 

"We are recommending that they flag bills for higher than normal usage when the bill is 50% higher than normal for that customer. Right now they are flagging when they get twice as high," says Leslie Ward, Atlanta City Auditor.

And once Watershed has flagged the bill, the auditors want customers to get help up front, not after the bill arrives. 

"Do the most important investigations before the bill goes out," Ward says, "and when you cannot do that, at least have the investigator latch a door hanger and notify the customer we have been out to look at your meter," Ward added.

"We know there may be something going on and this is  just a heads up," Ward said.

But that's not what happened to Blayne Beacham.

She had sticker shock, got shifted from person to person and  could not get Watershed to listen. 

That was last June. 

"I had a $16,000 water bill where they said I had leaks. I had 4 plumbers come out. There were on leaks," Beacham said.

"You (11Alive) came out and we got the meter replaced. No leaks and every bill has been $40 since the meter got replaced." she added.

And Beacham is not alone.

It's taken other homeowners months to sort things out. Topping the list are huge bills like one 11Alive sorted out for $62,823. 

Watershed tells 11Alive its working on the final phase of a new program to improve billing and claims its 166,000 electronic meters are now 99% accurate. 

"They are very eager to get this fixed," Ward said.

But after years of customer complaints, it wont be an easy fix.

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