NOLENSVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Some people in Nolensville said they want their water company to change their policies because of the lack of irrigation water leak adjustments are unreasonable.

No one likes a big surprise when they see their monthly bills.

Some people in Williamson County say they want their water company to change their policies when it comes to irrigation leaks, so that they aren’t stuck with high bills and left hanging out to dry.

“When you have a leak, you’re not consciously choosing to buy the water,” Brentwood resident Lisa Bartleson said.

Bartleson’s irrigation system leaked last September.

“It leaked, probably for about 6 weeks in total until the time we knew to shut off the water valve in the ground,” Bartleson said.

Her bill was nearly $4,000.

After getting everything fixed, Bartleson says that she asked the Nolensville College Grove Utility District for a leak adjustment. That’s where things got murky. Officials at the company told her they do not do that.

“We did everything that we knew how to do to mitigate or stop the water from leaking,” Bartleson said.

She’s just one example. Don Wagner is the President of the Glenellen Neighborhood Association.

“We received a bill on May 28th, and saw the huge bill and tried to figure out what happened and realized that-- it looked like we leaked at both entrances,’ Wagner said.

On a regular month for each entrance, the association pays less than $100 a month.

News 4 has heard from several homeowners who think it’s ridiculous that there is no adjustment policy for irrigation leaks.

“They’re charging $11.00 per 1,000 gallons of usage over 30,000 per month. And they’re only paying $3.78 for that water,” Bartleson said.

Neighbors also say it’s unfair because they know that Nashville Metro Water and the City Brentwood provide irrigation leak adjustments for their customers.

News 4 asked both Metro Water and Brentwood about how their policies work. Deanna Lambert, Community Relations Director with the City of Brentwood issued the following statement:

“Brentwood has always permitted leak adjustments for irrigation leaks, however, the City updated its Municipal Code Regarding Billing Adjustments for Water and Sewer Service in February 2018 in response to residents’ concerns about the equity of the City's existing billing adjustment policies related to water leaks. The City Commission voted to modify the billing adjustment formula for water leaks to reduce the financial impact for major leaks that were unknown to the customer until identified through the water meter reading process.

You also asked if Brentwood has a system in place that helps detects leaks and allows consumers to know immediately, in order to prevent an outrageous bill – yes over the past couple years, the Water Services Department has upgraded the old "walk by" meter reading system with a more advanced reading system. The new system includes multiple tower sites which read meters remotely as opposed to the more labor intensive, "walk by" reading system. The data is gathered on an hourly basis and daily reports are produced so any large abnormal water usage pattern and an individual customer location can hopefully be identified within a day or two and not have to wait until the next monthly meter read as with the old system.

 To further explain this, staff with the Water Services Department run a report each weekday morning based on established criteria that alerts us to potential leaks at a customer’s address, which includes possible irrigation leaks or general plumbing leaks. A team member responds that morning to those addresses and investigates if a leak is present, as best they can, and alert the homeowner to the reported potential leak. If no one is home, a letter gets generated and sent to the homeowner with the possible leak notification. This helps the customer prevent lengthy plumbing leaks and the associated water cost. It can also prevent water damage inside the home if the homeowner is not present for an extended period and the team member can shut water off.”

Sonia Allman, Manager of Strategic Communications at Metro Water Services issued the following statement:

“Residential customers are granted one leak adjustment within a 12 month period. (The request must be made within 90 days of repair.)

When the request is made and leak details are provided, Metro Water Services will review billing history to confirm excess usage and issue a credit.

Credits are calculated based on the following: 50% of excess water and sewer for a commode leak and 50% excess water and 100% excess sewer for a burst pipe, service line or water heater leak.

A leak on an irrigation system would qualify for a leak adjustment. It would essentially be the same as a leak on a service line.”

News 4 reached out to Nolensville College Grove Utility Disrict’s General Manager Mike Polston for an on camera interview. He declined. He did, however, issue the following statement regarding high water rates, their notification system and their rules regarding water irrigation leaks:

We do have a leak adjustment policy which I have attached. We do not adjust for irrigation leaks. The Utility Districts primary goal is to provide potable water to the customers within the Utility District and irrigation is a secondary priority. Water contracts are negotiated, line sizes, storage capacities, and pumping facilities are upgraded all with irrigation needs in mind. Revenue from irrigation is only received a limited number of months per year. The Board of Commissioners have evaluated the cost incurred by the District to provide this service. After careful evaluation the decision was made not to make adjustments for this non-essential service, since any adjustment is ultimately shared in the rates by all customers. The majority of which do not have irrigation.

Water service beyond the meter is the customer’s personal line and the Utility Districts responsibility stops at that point. We have consulted with surrounding Utility Districts and have found that they don’t provide irrigation adjustments with the exception of the City of Brentwood. However, the City of Brentwood is not created under the same rules as a Utility District in many ways, but most notably they do receive tax revenue and a utility district doesn’t.

The rate structure of Nolensville/ College Grove Utility District is the result of a rate study conducted by Jackson Thornton. The rate study was in response to the Utility District being referred to the State of Tennessee Utility Management Review Board as being financially distressed.

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated §7-82-401(g)(3) a utility district is financially distressed when it, its system or systems, is shown by the audited financial reports, as having either a deficit total net position, is in default on a indebtedness, or has a negative change in net position for two(2) consecutive years.

The rate structure recommended by Jackson Thornton was adopted to encourage the conservation of water used for irrigation purposes and to assist in financing capital improvements necessary to meet irrigation demands of its customers.

I will also add that the further you get from the water source the more the water is going to cost. Since there is no viable water source in this area, the majority of the water for NCGUD is purchased from Mallory Valley who purchases water from Harpeth Valley.

Our meters are read monthly. NCGUD utilizes an Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) system. Each meter has an electronic transmitter. The transmitter sends a radio signal that is received monthly by NCGUD’s mobile data collector (laptop computer with antenna). Maintenance personnel have to drive by each meter to collect the data. This information is then downloaded into NCGUD’s billing system. The office will then contact the affected customers on a continual usage report via phone, text and email to notify them of a possible leak. The office also generates a high usage report and notifies the affected customers in the same manner. The customer you referenced with the $5,000 bill was notified, however, it was not turned off at the correct location, by the customer, to isolate the leak so it continued to run. Notices are on each monthly billing asking customers to please update their contact information. A separate notice is also inserted in with one billing per year asking customers to please update their contact information.

NCGUDs leak adjustment policy with 4 other Water Utilities Districts leak adjustment policies (COURTESY: NCGUD) .

Bartleson said one thing that she wants people to know is that if you have an irrigation leak, don’t just turn off your control panel on your wall. Shut off your valve and check your meter to see if it stopped. If it stops, Bartleson says then you will know that the leak is in your irrigation. 

Bartleson said she just wishes that was something Nolensville College Grove Utility District would have told her. It would have saved her almost $4,000.00

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