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Chesapeake woman looks for answers after getting $1,700 water bill

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Posted at 11:10 AM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 14:44:22-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Water is an essential part of our everyday lives, but for Sunny Haynes, paying for this necessity has become a pain.

"My water bill email had come in, I clicked on the link to view the bill, and I spit my coffee," Haynes said.

The total amount that was due to the City of Chesapeake was $1,789.25.

"I don't know where we're going to come up with [the money] except maybe run late on the house payment. That's the only way I can be able to do it," she said.

Haynes said her family has never received a bill this high in the six years they have lived in the home, so she had a professional inspect for leaks.

"They did a toilet test, they checked my refrigerator, they checked my water treatment, they climbed underneath the house — the poor soul. And there was nothing to be found," Haynes said.

Haynes told Problem Solver Erin Miller that she sent her report to the city and a representative said it was an "unexplained water loss." She worried that a nearby leak in the city-owned water line was contributing to her high water bill.

We asked David Jurgens, Chesapeake's director of public utilities, about this.

"So, that's not physically possible, because the water has to go through the meter," Jurgens said.

News 3 asked Jurgens what people are supposed to do when a trained professional confirms a homeowner or renter doesn't have any leaks. He said, "I'll show you the water meter. It takes force, it takes water movement to cause the water meter to spin. It does not ever spin by just sitting there. So, I don't know where the water went, but a meter doesn't spin unless water goes through it."

Jurgens also said city policy prevents him from speaking specifically about Haynes' situation. However, he did speak to their formula for adjusting these unexplained, excessive bills.

Haynes' bill was adjusted by $405.25, leaving her on the hook for $1,384.02, which is near $1,200 more than she usually pays.

"It's based off somebody's normal usage, we subtract that out and then we take the amount of the leak," Jurgens said. "I think this is the right number where we absorbed 50 percent of the the excess and the customer absorbs 50 percent of the excess. They own the system. So that's part of that responsibility of ownership, but we try to help as much as we can."

Jurgens said the top source for unexplained leaks is usually the toilet.

"There are invisible leaks, that [even] when you hire a leak detection service to come in, there is no way to find it," he said.

He suggested putting dye or food coloring in your toilet tank. Don't flush and wait a little bit. If the dye seeps into the bowl, then you know you have a leak.

That doesn't help Haynes' situation though, especially this summer when inflation is flooding our wallets.

"If we had used it, I'd pay the bill and just deal with it, whatever. But we didn't use it," Haynes said. "It's frustrating for all of us that are out here struggling from week to week just to feed our families."

As for the issue with the city line, after News 3 spoke with Jurgens, who said a supervisor was sent out to investigate the complaint. Haynes was assured that a work order was filed to fix the sidewalk and the yard.

Jurgens said the city works with the Salvation Army, the House of Blessings, and Harvest Assembly.

If you have a consumer tip or a story that you want the News 3 Problem Solvers to look into, email Erin Miller at