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City of Calgary and ENMAX water billing questions and answers

Billing and bill adjustments

What should I do if I get an unexpectedly high bill?

ENMAX monitors all City water customer accounts to watch for unusual spikes in usage. If an unusual spike is detected, and before the bills are sent out, ENMAX proactively contacts these customers.

If you have questions about your water bill, please call ENMAX at 403-310-2010.

How are bills adjusted in circumstances of unexpectedly high water consumption?

We recognize that it is difficult for customers to receive an extraordinarily high water bill, and therefore as of August 30, 2017, The City is changing its bill adjustment procedures for customers who experience this.

These changes will be based on the following principles:

  • Customers who fix leaks in a reasonable amount of time (after being contacted by ENMAX) will no longer have to pay the extraordinarily large water bill. They will be billed on their average use.
  • For those customers where the leak is more difficult to detect, The City and ENMAX will work with those customers to identify the problem. Once the problem is identified and fixed within a reasonable amount of time, the customers will be billed on their average use.

The City is working through the criteria of what retroactive time period should be considered, defining the threshold of what constitutes extraordinarily water high bills, and doing further analysis on the financial impact of these scenarios.

These criteria will be in place by October 1, 2017 and The City will authorize ENMAX to begin implementation at this time. The City will monitor and fine-tune the new water bill adjustment process through 2017 and may make further adjustments in 2018.

If I had a high bill in the past, can I still be compensated?

The City is working through the criteria of what retroactive time period will be considered and defining the threshold of what constitutes extraordinarily high water bills.

These criteria will be in place by October 1, 2017 and The City will authorize ENMAX to begin implementation at this time. In the meantime, we ask that you wait for that decision so we can work with you to determine your individual situation.

How do you know unexpectedly high bills aren’t caused by a billing or metering issue?

Both the meters and billing system are extensively and regularly tested and there are no indications of irregularities resulting in an increase in high consumption bills.

However, we are committed to having an independent assessment of The City and ENMAX systems done to further validate their accuracy because we know that customers must be able to trust that their water consumption is accurately captured by their meter and reflected on their bills.

Identifying and preventing high water consumption

What steps do ENMAX and The City go through to figure out the cause of a significant spike in usage by a customer?

Throughout the years, The City has had a program in place to assist in situations where customers incurred high bills related to a spike in consumption.

As part of our ongoing efforts to improve customer experience, The City and ENMAX changed this approach in 2016 by moving to proactively alerting customers with higher than average water consumption before issuing them a bill.

The City also worked with ENMAX to establish a specialized team to handle calls about high consumption in order to achieve quicker resolution and professional troubleshooting using thehigh consumption checklist.

Today, ENMAX continues to proactively monitor all City water customer accounts to watch for unusual spikes in usage. When a spike is detected, ENMAX notifies customers before the bills are sent out.

The City and ENMAX work with each customer who shares concerns about higher than normal bills. The first step is to ask the customer to work through The City’shigh consumption checklist.

Often, once customers walk through the checklist, they are able to identify the cause of their high consumption. If the cause cannot be found, ENMAX and The City move into a more extensive investigation.

This involves confirming the accuracy of our systems; ENMAX checks its billing processes for any system irregularities and The City sends professionally-trained technicians to inspect and test the customer’s water meter to ensure it is working correctly.

The City’s investigation includes:

  • A visual inspection of the meter, including ensuring the technology is up to date.
  • Checking the dial configuration.
  • Making sure the meter does not have damage and is not leaking.
  • Checking the meter’s transmitter is working and transmitting the meter reading accurately.
  • An “in situ” test of the meter to determine whether or not any fixtures are leaking in the home.

The City often uses the opportunity of being on site to replace the meter as part of its life cycle program.

What can cause unexpectedly high consumption?

The most common cause of large increases in water consumption are leaks in the home. The most common sources of large increases in water consumption are outlined in the following chart:

Common Sources of Water Leaks

What can I do to make sure my water bill doesn’t increase?

Checking for leaks in and around your home will help ensure that you aren’t unintentionally consuming water.

Visit Water Leaks and Basic Repairs for thehigh consumption checklist, and for ways that you can save water. There are even more tips and ideas on how to save water around your home at Water Conservation.

How often do customers experience unusually high spikes in water usage?

About 99.5 per cent of our over 350,000 customers receive monthly bills that reflect regular water consumption levels within their average range. Each month, there are approximately less than one half of one per cent of all customers whose consumption differs dramatically from their historical usage.

Approximately 1,750 customers per month have consumption that is far above their normal range. Of those 1,750 customers, only 20 are in a situation where the source of the water consumption is not able to be determined after testing, checking and troubleshooting by the customer, The City and ENMAX.

Most are able to identify the cause of their increase in consumption and can attribute it to obvious causes like a hot tub, irrigation system, a burst pipe or a water heater.

Are there more incidents of unexpectedly high consumption by customers now than in previous years?

No, we have not seen an increase in incidents of unexpectedly high water consumption.

Water delivery and customer care

What is The City’s role and what’s ENMAX’s role in delivering and billing for water?

The City of Calgary owns, operates and maintains the water utility, including the meters and water infrastructure, such as pipes and water treatment plants.

The City, as owner and operator, establishes all Calgary’s customer water rates as well as the policies and procedures for administering these rates, including the policies and procedures in place for rare circumstances involving extraordinarily high consumption.

The City contracts ENMAX to provide billing and customer care services for City of Calgary water customers.

ENMAX reads the water meters, produces the bills and provides customer care services on The City’s behalf. One hundred per cent of the fees for water services collected by ENMAX are sent directly to The City, and ENMAX carries out its services in accordance with The City’s rates, policies and procedures.

Water meters

How can I trust that my meter is accurate?

The City uses water meters that meet industry standards. Before The City receives meters, all meters are tested by the manufacturer at three different flow rates before distribution to certify the meter’s accuracy.

The City also owns a state-of-the-art Water Meter Test Bench manufactured by MARS Company, an industry leader in meter testing technology. We are one of a few municipalities to have that technology, and while other municipalities also test their meters, ours additionally measures the weight of the water passing through to verify the accuracy of the meter.

Water meters are mechanical devices – water needs to pass through the meter in order to record use. In rare cases, meters can register slightly higher volumes at certain flows than what is flowing through.

In that rare event, it would be a negligible increase, and it would be much more likely for a meter to register lower water consumption, as water meters tend to slow down as they age.

This would result in a lower bill for the customer, not higher. Also, in this case it would not likely be a one-month error but rather show as a pattern.

How can I check to see if my meter is operating properly?

Your meter is typically located in the basement where your water service enters the home. The meter has numbers (looks similar to an odometer on a car) and a dial called a flow register. The dial and numbers shows water consumption.

It’s easy to check if your meter is registering flow: have someone turn water on in the house, and watch as the flow register turns and registers consumption.

If the flow register is turning and all fixtures are off, this could indicate that you have a leak.

Use thehigh consumption checklist on Water Leaks and Basic Repairs to help troubleshoot the cause.

How is my meter read and how am I billed as a result of the meter reading?

Most water meters (almost 90 per cent of homes) are electronically read for billing purposes by a meter reader (ENMAX staff who are already on site to read the electricity meters).

Water readings are electronically sent directly to the meter reader's device. Water meters are installed just above the main water shut-off valve in the home. This is usually in the basement and is located on a pipe that comes out of the basement floor.

The remaining residential meters are read manually by a meter reader and recorded. These manual read-outs located on the outside of the home, are being replaced by electronic readings as part of our meter replacement program.

No one has to enter the home to read a meter. Meter readings are taken monthly. Readings are obtained from 99 per cent of the meters.

The other one per cent of time, we don’t receive a transmission so the customer is billed based on historical usage. The next time the meter reader is able to pick up a transmission, the bill is updated with the actual past reading. There may be some minor adjustments in order to reconcile the difference.

City audit on The City's water utility billing process

I’ve heard The City did an audit on water billing. What is that about?

This audit of City of Calgary Water Utility billing processes was part of the City Auditor’s Office annual audit plan approved in November 2016 and isn’t related to recent water customer inquiries involving unexpected high consumption situations.

The Water Utility has agreed to all recommendations and committed to implementing the recommendations in 2018.