San Tan Valley residents complain of increase in water usage from Johnson Utilities

Posted at 6:34 PM, Aug 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-05 15:34:12-04
Several residents in San Tan Valley are complaining after noticing a large spike in their water bills. Some noted an increase in water usage -- some by thousands of gallons -- and some customers believe this is not possible.
Brad Cole, a manager at Johnson Utilities, said the increase is possible.
While the average water usage for customers in the area is 6,000, those noticing a huge surge in usage may have a water leak or a bad meter.
Eric Carlsen, a San Tan Valley resident, said he's looked at both issues. 
"Typically we're using about 6,000 - 7000 gallons of water. Now we're sitting at 30,000 gallons," he said
Carlsen said he already replaced his toilets after a Johnson Utilities' staffer reportedly told him he had leaking toilets. Yet, the bill kept rising, he said.
Then he was told the leak may be in his irrigation lines. Carlsen said he's spent $1,500 trying to find that leak.
"I've had three different plumbers come out, I have had a landscaper come out and check the whole entire yard. Three different landscapers.  They've torn through my backyard looking for a leak, we've replaced all the valves," he said.
He said he had a similar problem three years ago. He filed an official complaint with the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates private utility companies.
After, Carlsen said he immediately got a call from a supervisor at Johnson Utilities who said the problem could be fixed. His bill went back down to about $70-80 for a few months, he said.
Now he's seeing another surge. That 30,000 water usage means a nearly $250 bill.
He said Johnson Utilities insists he has a leak somewhere. When a technician came out to investigate, Carlsen said, the company discovered his usage was much lower and he was told it was a billing issue.
He contacted the billing department and they told him it was likely a bad meter.
He's still on the hook with little answers.
Jacquilyn Miller moved to San Tan Valley from North Carolina three months ago.
Her first bill said she used 1,000 gallons. Then it went up to 9,000 gallons. Her most recent bill has her usage at 14,000 gallons, 14 times her first bill.
She, too, was told she had a leak somewhere.
"You would think if I had a leak somewhere I'd be stepping in a puddle," she said.
She showed ABC15 her water meter. It said she had used 1,200 gallons in 24 hours, something the mother of two feels is impossible.
Richard Holmes, another San Tan Valley resident, said his first bill when he moved here showed 7,000 gallons of water usage.  Then it went up to 12,000.  Now it's at 19,000 gallons.
"In that billing cycle we were on the East Coast for two weeks. To come back and see a bill for 19,000 gallons for one week of usage is insane," said Holmes.
He said he has had his meters replaced twice. The last one was leaking and faulty. Holmes said the new one appears to be faulty, too.
He contacted the utility company and was told he must have a leak.
"I'll give them $20,000 in cash if they can find a leak. I will.  Twenty grand if you come out here and find a leak, I'll give it to you," said Holmes.
ABC 15 reached out to the Arizona Corporation Commission for a comment.
ACC spokeswoman Angie Holdsworth said Commissioners took immediate action and ordered a rate review after the indictment of Johnson Utilities' owner George Johnson involving a bribery scandal alleging Johnson paid off an ACC commissioner to increase water rates for customers in Pinal County so he could pay his personal tax bill.
The day after that indictment, Johnson stepped down from his role with the company. 
That rate review, according to ACC officials, is due at the end of September.
Some customers might see an increase in their bill for a fee from the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District.
"The CAGRD that you asked about stands for the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District. This charge is what the company pays to Central Arizona Project to get water from the Colorado River.  There are five other water companies that have this charge on their bills," said Holdsworth. "The CAGRD is reviewed yearly to determine if the company over or under-collected.  The January 3rd 2017 decision by the Commissioners approved the increase because it was determined that Johnson under-collected from rate payers to pay for the water."
Johnson Utilities said that fee should go down after January 2018.
The ACC also said, "We certainly are concerned about the concerns you have been hearing from customers.  The Arizona Corporation Commission takes all complaints very seriously.  We urge customers to contact us regarding water service, billing, or any issue that is impacting water or wastewater services."
The ACC said complaints can be made by phone or online,
Metro Phoenix: 602-542-4251
Metro Tucson: 520-628-6550
When making a complaint online, consumers should go to the "Utilities Division Consumer Services" section. You can view the ACC complaint form, here.