LET INGA TELL YOU:
Editor's Note: This column, originally published in June, 2015, addresses the issues of water leaks and misread water meters currently in the news.
It's never good news when your refrigerator suddenly starts sounding like a fountain. We actually have a small recirculating outdoor fountain that we turn on when we're reading the paper on our patio in the morning. (Lighten up, water zealots, it takes like a gallon.)
For several weeks, for hours at a time, I'd hear the familiar fountain burble and think we'd accidentally left it on until I realized the sound was coming from the refrigerator. Suffice it to say, this was an eventuality not covered by the fridge's owner's manual.
I called our usual appliance repair place. Been in business 40 years, they said. Never heard of a refrigerator sounding like a fountain. Was it working? Yes, I said. No water on floor. Everything's cold. Still makes ice. Then no point in coming out, they said, probably making a note to ignore future calls from this number.
Then we got a water bill that was double the last one. I nearly fell out of my chair when I opened it. At that rate, per annum, we could get two first class tickets to Maui. Which, of course, we'd much rather do than pay the water trolls whom we suspect of unduly profiting at the taxpayer's expense.
Of course, one possibility was that they'd miss-read the meter, a way-too-common experience in my neighborhood. The folks to one side of us have had their meter miss read twice, receiving bills for over $2,000 for their very modest lot. But the real whopper was the neighbor on the other side of us who received a water bill for $41,065.20 for a 600 square foot rental property on a postage stamp-size lot in Pacific Beach with a customary water bill of $80. Good thing they didn't have Automatic Bill Pay!
As for $24,078.89 of that amount being for "Sewer Usage"…no, we won't even go there.
My neighbor called the water department expecting they would immediately agree with the unlikelihood of a 36,326.5 percent (I love the .5) increase in usage from the last bill. Instead, the water lady replied, "Sounds like you have a leak." 3.4 MILLION GALLONS WORTH? My neighbor, who was quietly having a heart attack, replied: "For that much water, there'd be a sink hole the size of Qualcomm." It was her husband who immediately suspected — and confirmed — the misread meter. 2742 was recorded as 7242. (Apology from water folks? Nope!)
So that was our first thought: The Dyslexic Meter Reader Strikes Again! What was especially puzzling was that a year ago, we'd paid $2,800 to have our sprinkler system revamped and upgraded with low-flow heads, and our water bills had dropped considerably. Until now.
I called the refrigerator folks back and $81 later, they confirmed that nothing was wrong with the fridge which had remained maliciously silent while the repair guy was there but started burbling 10 minutes after he left. He didn't think the bill and the phantom fountain noise were related. But on his way out he said: "You know, you might want to check under your house."
It is a testament to how much both Olof and I hate going under our house that we managed to ignore this suggestion for another five days. I wrote in my book about crawling under the house — as nasty a rat and spider-filled place as you can imagine, never mind my personal vision of Hell — as a chronically-broke single mom dragging two gallons of muriatic acid to pour into the clean-out pipe. My list of lifetime goals included never doing it again.
A leaflet had come with our humongo water bill suggesting we check our meter. Instructions: 1) Make sure no water is running. 2) Open lid to the sidewalk water meter and be stung by black widow spiders who live in there. No, seriously, they do (live there). Actually, what it says is: "Check the area around the meter to make sure there are no harmful insects or other animals." (What, gophers?) Even before I took a reading we could see the meter moving. Bad news.
So that's how Olof ended up under the house. (I don't want him to think that that's why I married him, but truthfully, it was a factor.) As soon as he pulled off the door to the claustrophobic crawl space, we could clearly hear water running. Flashlight in hand, Olof had to army-crawl the entire length of the house risking rodential and arachnic assaults until he got to — surprise! — the area under the refrigerator where a 1/8-inch hole in a main pipe was gushing water.
Plumber on a Sunday? Don't ask. But definitely cheaper than letting it run.
After the plumber left, we tested the meter again. Fifteen minutes and the meter didn't budge. Phew! But you can believe I'm going to be on the sucker at least weekly from now on. Because I would have much rather gone to Maui.
— Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org