Saturday, July 20, 2024

A Somerville device for transmitting water use data was identified in August in a Reddit thread after posting by Lord_Nerevar_Reborn.

Water bills for some Somerville residents have seen increases since the installation of new meters, and city councilors are asking for Water and Sewer to better explain the increases and consider a forgiveness period for unexpected surges resulting from inaccuracies.

Ward 5 city councilor Beatriz Gomez Mouakad put forth the order at a City Council meeting Nov. 9.

“We need to think of a forgiveness period,” Gomez Mouakad said. “It’s just complete insanity. And this is going to be passed on to renters as well, and we don’t need any more household cost inflation.”

Council president Ben Ewen-Campen said he’d explored the issue as well after complaints from constituents in his Ward 3. “Somehow we still have not gotten our act together, with all due respect,” he said. “My understanding of the issue, and I think the public does not understand this, actually: The water meters themselves work. There is a little transponder that sends the signal to the city that in some cases has stopped working.”

When the transponder stops working, residents’ bills will have an “E” on it, he said. The “E” means the bill is being estimated.

“That estimation might be wrong – might be too high, might be too low,” Ewen-Campen said. “Once you get your water meter replaced and they get the real reading off the meter, then they know how much water you actually used.”

This leads residents to potentially get either an adjustment credit or a bill that could be “500 percent of what you normally pay,” he said.

There is no further explanation on the bills beyond the letter “E,” and many people may not understand what that means. Until the beginning of the month, there wasn’t information about this issue on the Water and Sewer Department website. Ewen-Campen said he was told told by the administration that a new water bill is in the works that will be more clear.

“I cannot express how poorly I think this has been communicated to residents,” Ewen-Campen said. “We need to dramatically improve the way we are communicating.”

While he and other officials want the surprise increase bills forgiven, state law prohibits it, he said.

Ward 4 councilor Jesse Clingan said he agrees that communication with the public about the billing should have been better and worries that once the public hears about the increase in bills, they will be hesitant to come forward about needing their meter changed to prevent receiving a high bill.

Gomez Mouakad’s order was approved and sent for discussion with the Public Utilities and Public Works Committee.

Director of Water and Sewer Demetrios Vidalis did not respond to Cambridge Day’s request for comment.