Michael and Christi Brownlow of Jefferson probably should have capped a water line leading to an unoccupied trailer when they moved out nearly a decade ago.
It might have saved them $2,500.
The Brownlows appeared before the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority on Jan. 13 to contest a settlement offer on a $4,563 bill in November alleging they’d used almost 525,000 gallons of water.
Mrs. Brownlow did most of the talking during the 56-minute discussion. She adamantly denied the possibility of a leak on the grounds that she’d seen no huge pool of water. She submitted as part of her evidence a photograph and story about Celene Dion installing a 500,000-gallon swimming pool, but her argument focused on two concepts: that there was no leak and that the authority was remiss for not telling her sooner that she had a leak.
Having concluded to its satisfaction that there was a leak, the authority, per its standing policy, offered a 50-percent reduction in the bill and the spreading of the reimbursement over time.
That did not satisfy Mrs. Brownlow, who complained that in dealing with the arbitration committee she “didn’t get anywhere with her complaint.”
From Oct. 15 to Nov. 15, when the meter was read, 524,950 gallons of water went through the meter. It was several days before the data was used to generate a bill, at which time the authority saw the spike in usage and notified the Brownlows that they likely had a leak.
Another 125,000 gallons had passed through the meter by then, a fact that Mrs. Brownlow returned to several times.
In a written statement, she said, “This kind of bill is outrageous and I just don’t understand how this kind of spike of gallons used could not be seen before it was too late.”
She also reiterated the lack of evidence — water on the ground — of a leak of that magnitude.
“I want to see where this water is,” she said. “I don’t see no water… This has never happened before and it shouldn’t happen to nobody.”
And, “We don’t see the water; we’ve never seen the leak.”
Yet the Brownlows conceded that there was water under the trailer, but dismissed it as “a small leak.”
The couple lives in a house on the front of the lot on State Route 124. The mobile home is on the back of the lot and served as their residence before while they built the house, and when they moved into the house they abandoned the trailer, cutting off the water.
However, they cut it off at the trailer, leaving 200-300 feet of pressurized low-grade PVC line in place. Once the Brownlows capped that line at the upper end (after notification from the authority of the probable leak), the high usage ceased.
“That had to tell us there was a leak somewhere between the house and the trailer,” noted chairman Randall Pugh.
The authority tested the Brownlows’ meter and found it more than 99 percent accurate.
Water manager Stacey Jenkins said that on one visit to the site he could see the meter running, indicating a leak.
“I didn’t see a leak, but water was running through the meter,” he said.
Following a nine-minute closed session, the authority approved an amendment to an “addendum” to its contract for the recent upgrade of its Middle Oconee Water Reclamation Facility that is expected to result in repairs to a bar screen that does not function properly. The authority had to threaten litigation to get the matter resolved.
Manager Eric Klerk briefed the authority on the resolution of a water pressure issue for East Jackson residents in the Hoods Mill Road area. Basically, the authority moved the area from service from the Waterworks Road tank to service from the Dry Pond tank, the result of which is an increase of more than 30 pounds per square inch of water pressure.
Klerk also advised that a new skimmer had been successfully installed at the water reclamation facility.
Both of those projects, he said, came in well under budget, although both were delayed by long “lead times” required when ordering parts.