Calif. Residents Are Battling A Local Water Co. Over Outrageous Bills

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A battle has been brewing for months between residents of a Monterey, Calif. community and a private water company they blame for a rash of outrageously high bills. 

Residents say a new tiered rate put in place by California American Water has caused "unexplained spikes in monthly water bills that in some cases have totaled thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of gallons," reports Monterrey Herald's Julia Reynolds.

"I am writing you to let you know of my outrageous water bill I received from [California American Water Co.],” Monterey resident Stacy Yacout wrote to a local news site. “I was shocked when I learned I was being charged $165 this month when last month my bill was only $8. How could this be possible? I called the company and was told I must have a leak. I had a plumber in the very next day. No leaks.”

Her case, along with many more, mirror that of the wife of former 49ers football coach Bill Walsh who made waves when she went public about a $10,000 water bill in August. 

Another resident, Toni Ray, spoke out in February about a $9,800 bill that tallied her water use at 203,000 gallons.

The company typically offers a one-time rate adjustment for spikes like these that have no discernible cause. But now Cal Am has petitioned the state to recoup more than $6.2 million it says it spent giving customers adjustments between 2007 and 2011.

Reynolds reports: 

"In what's called an "advice letter" dated Oct. 17, Cal Am asked for a customer surcharge of around 3.4 cents per 10 cubic feet. ... At that rate, those water customers can expect to pay $2.46 to $4 more per month for the new surcharge."

In response to the Monterey Bay Area News, Cal Am general manager Eric Sabolsice said the company is not trying price gouge customers.

“We have no reason to attempt that,” he said. “We believe that rate structure increases for tiers three, four and five are the sources for this issue. We’re looking at the complaints from every possible angle, and we’re not seeing leaks.”

For now, residents have been given a 20-day window beginning Oct. 17 to protest the company's surcharge request. 

Find a link here: www.mpwmd.dst.ca.us to file a complaint with the PUC. 

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