By Kelsey Mesmer
The Detroit residents we’ve been talking to over the past few weeks are water savvy. Everyone knows — or should know — to take shorter showers, not only to conserve water for the environment’s sake but also to lower your monthly water bill. Taking shorter showers is easy, though. Some Detroiters, like a senior citizen I interviewed in her home on Burlingame Street yesterday, only run the water during part of their showers.
“I get in the shower, get wet, turn the water off, soap up, and then turn the water back on,” she said.
A group of seniors gathered at St. Patrick’s Senior Center to talk about water issues shared similar tactics. Short showers, only flushing for number two, making sure their grandkids shut off the tap when they’re visiting and using the water. Some even turned their water valve off while they’re not home to stop leaks from getting out of control. But still, all complained of high water bills.
Non-profit organizations, community groups, and even DWSD create handouts and water saving guides all spouting the same message: use less water, reduce your water bill. Heck, our Detroit Water Stories team even made a similar flyer, culminating others’ helpful tips into one resource to give to residents we interviewed for the project. But the reality seems to be that no matter how many of those regulatory measure you follow, that bill doesn’t budge — at least not much.
I hear the frustration in people’s voices when we ask them why their bills are so high.
“I know how to manage my water!”
“It’s not like I’m just sitting here letting the water run!”
Some are suspicious of the water meters themselves.
“It’s their meter, how do I know it’s right? They can make it say whatever they want it to say.”
What seems to be at least part of the problem is the way the water utility “estimates” a household’s water usage. Multiple residents complained about being charged for more than what they were actually using because the utility bills for “estimated usage.” Single, senior residents said they were receiving bills for the same amount or more than their neighbors who had three people living in their households. Because of this system, no matter how frugal residents said they were being with their water, their water bills remained unmanageable.
*Note: This information is based on conversations with Detroit residents and has not been confirmed or denied by anyone affiliated with DWSD.