Self-proclaimed water conservationist outraged over $400 SAWS bill

By Patty Santos - Reporter, Rob Garza - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - KSAT 12 News has been flooded with calls and emails regarding higher-than-normal San Antonio Water System water bills. One area where many customers are voicing their concerns is in north Bexar County. 

Mike Sudduth is a self-proclaimed water conservationist who installed a 10,000-gallon tank in his backyard where he captures rainwater from his gutters to water his garden. The water system allows him to be able to transfer the water for use inside his home. The system also allows him to shut off water from SAWS so he can use the rainwater. 

"I don't want to be reliant on city water 100% of the time," Sudduth said. 

Related: SAWS offers large rebate toward sensors to help monitor water usage

Sudduth said he hardly flushes his toilet, using the water that drips from the air conditioning system.  

The minimalist said he's very meticulous about his energy and water use, so when he got his latest SAWS bill, he was outraged. 

"I get a $14-a-month bill nine months out of the year, but this time around it was $400 and some change," he said.

Sudduth's bill shows he used almost 39,000 gallons of water, which is dramatically higher than the 2,500 gallons he said he uses. 

"It's just my wife and I, so we know exactly how much water we are using, or not using," he said.  

Sudduth's previous bill was over $200. He was shocked, but he still paid the bill. But when the next bill came in at $400, he started noticing that other neighbors were also complaining about their bills that doubled or tripled. He knew something was wrong.  

Sudduth checked his system for leaks, and he called SAWS. He said technicians have told him there doesn't appear to be anything wrong and that his water use is pretty low. 

Sudduth said because he's so precise about his water conservation, he feels confident the problem is not on his end. But he feels bad for other customers who are on a budget and who are forced to pay the bill. 

"I don't know how they are billing people and how they are coming up with these numbers. I don't know. I have no explanation for it at all," he said.

KSAT 12 News has been in contact with SAWS since the start of the week regarding the spike in water bills. SAWS officials said water bill spikes happen every summer because the lack of rain causes more people to run their sprinkler systems. 

SAWS officials said most irrigation systems use an average of 3,000 gallons per cycle. Customers can also ask for a water conservation checkup or flow sensor program. 

You can read the press release that was sent on the issue, where SAWS points out a number of ways customers can figure out what's causing their high bills. 

In response to Sudduth's situation, SAWS said every customer needs to figure out what is causing their high water usage and not blame the utility's billing system. 

SAWS offered to send a conservation technician for a checkup at Sudduth's home, which he said has already been done. SAWS also offered to lend Sudduth a water-flow meter. 

Sudduth said he's watered his grass about six to seven times this year. He said his system allows him to use SAW's water or rainwater he collects.  

Sudduth is one of several customers in the area who are organizing efforts to protest the high water bills at the door of SAWS headquarters next Friday. 

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