Rolake Tomori has rented a home off Barnes Mill Road since 2011 and says her water bill typically hovers between $50 and $60 a month, about 3,500 gallons worth. But her most recent bill said she owes Marietta Power and Water $1,400.
The reason? The city’s meter said she used 89,000 gallons.
“I called customer service,” Tomori said. “She said you’re stuck. … I’m a single parent, I have a daughter in college.”
Tomori is an immigrant from Nigeria who grew up in England. A psychologist, her son is a student at Marietta High School, and her daughter attends Yale University.
Alarmed by the high bill, Tomori has had two separate plumbers come out, A&G Rooter and Hunt Contracting and Remodeling, both of which said they found no leaks. One of them even warned her that the meters used by the city are known to have issues.
“We did notice that the water company has installed an electronic water monitor on your meter,” wrote Ken Hunt, owner of Hunt Contracting, on the inspection statement. “These have been well-documented on local news channels as giving false readings.”
Tomori’s meter was installed in 2010. Officials with MPW said meters typically slow down over time rather than speed up and that they are usually replaced after 10 years only because of revenue loss.
The city has told her she has to pay the bill in full or have her water shut off. Because Marietta also handles power and trash service, Tomori worries those will be cut off as well.
Ron Mull, director of customer care at Marietta Power and Water, said the city has been in constant contact with Tomori and checked the meter several times throughout the month.
Mull said the meter was first checked March 14 showing 89,000 gallons had been used. Noticing the high output, the city sent someone to check again and in the three hours between readings the meter showed another 1,000 gallons ran through her system.
“We billed accordingly,” Mull said. “She got her bill for $1,400.”
The meter was checked a third time March 19, Mull said, and another 7,000 had been used. The city later used a leak detector showing no water was being used at the time of the reading.
While it would seem the lack of leaks is good news for Tomori, the opposite may be true. MPW can give discounts for excessive water usage, but only under the right circumstances.
“For us to do a leak adjustment we’d have to have documentation demonstrating a leak,” Mull said. “We have to have documentation for us to give credit back as well. We can’t just say, ‘OK, we’ll forget about it.’ We actually have to pay for it when it comes through the wholesale meter. That’s all been explained to the customer. She seemed to be OK with it initially. I know it’s a big bill, but whatever the problem was seems to be corrected now.”
Something as simple as a leaky toilet could use up 89,000 gallons in a month if it’s running wide open, according to Mull. To give an idea how much water that is, Mull said 89,000 gallons could fill “a couple of pools.”
But Tomori holds that this type of problem doesn’t go away on its own.
“Do you think an 89,000-gallon leak would just clear itself up?” she asked. “I do not like drama, but I know for a fact they are going to disconnect my water and my electricity.”
Liz Coyle, executive director of consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch, feels the city should work with Tomori. She said the customer should pay her bill — her typical $50 bill — and fight the charge until a resolution can he reached.
“It sounds like extortion,” she said. “Obviously this is very troubling that someone would be told we’ll cut off your water if you don’t pay.”
Coyle suggested Tomori reach out to her elected officials, Mayor Steve Tumlin and her local Marietta councilman, and see if they will help out. She raised the possibility someone could be stealing water from Tomori, but said that seems unlikely considering the amount of water involved.
“Clearly, it’s illogical to think this individual would so dramatically increase her water usage, especially considering the fact that both she and the city have determined there is not a leak,” said Coyle. “Marietta needs to be reasonable, come to the table and discuss some other outcome other than ‘Pay the bill or we will turn off your water.’”
Tomori’s payments can be spread over a period up to the three months, but ultimately she has to pay the bill, Mull said. He added that the city usually gets at least one or two complaints similar to hers each month, but often the problem is a leak.
The water bill is more than Tomori pays in rent each month. Her landlord has been helpful and paid for the plumber to check the home, but ultimately it is her problem.
“If you had an 89,000-gallon leak, you would see something,” Tomori said.