Haverhill Water Official Blames Wide Swing in Household Bills on Glitch Affecting Batteries

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

Dead batteries in household water meters in Haverhill are being blamed for unusual water bill variations—including huge ones for some—but the city is offering several forms of relief.

Haverhill Public Works Director Robert E. Ward told WHAV the problem stems from radio devices that transmit meter readings.

“There was a software glitch somewhere along the way that caused the units to try to send the signal constantly and, by doing that, we had a lot of premature battery failures,” he said.

The water department has used its own staff and also hired contractors over the last couple of years to replace the devices at homes, but has not been able to get into the homes of all affected. “In the meantime, if we don’t have any way of getting an actual reading, we have to send out an estimated bill,” he said.

Estimated bills are based on past usage patterns, which cannot account for leaks or other scenarios.

“But, if somebody during that estimated period used more water—for example, last summer we had a really dry summer and they used water to water the lawn—that’s not going to be reflected in their bill until we get an actual reading. So, they could have had some high usage periods where it would be kind of a catch-up,” Ward explained.

Although there are about 17,500 water customers, he said, the city has been proactive. Staff have flagged unusually high bills or contacted residents with estimated bills to schedule a fix. Ward notes those caught in the situation may pay in installments and there are no interest charges.

Besides payment plans, some forgiveness may be available for those who would have learned of leaks sooner if they had received actual bills. Ward said the city’s Water/Wastewater Abatement Board, which meets quarterly, has been generous about granting financial relief. Normally, abatement requests are due within 30 days of receipt of bills, but the circumstances have permitted extensions. “It’s something that happened and we’re trying to deal with it and try to make it as painless as possible for everybody involved.”

Where estimates were high, households received credits or lower bills when actual readings took place.

Comments are closed.