real estate

How to Get a Refund on Your Water Bill If Your Faucet Leaks

Many water municipalities will reimburse you for wasted water if you report and fix the problem.

Sometimes water doesn't just go down the drain. It leaks — and you have to pay for water you never used. Did you know you can recover some of that ill-spent money? Here's how.

Water utility agencies across the United States, through goodwill policies or because of government regulation, offer customers a way to recover money they lose when a toilet runs, a lawn-sprinkling system bursts, a pipe leaks and other scenarios that cause money to needlessly fall through your hands like . . . water.

Depending on your water utility's policy, you could recover all or some of that lost money. You may be able to seek leak refunds only one time, once or twice every 12 months, or once every two years.

"It's something the larger utilities are willing to do in an effort to maintain good relations with their customers," says Deirdre Mueller, public affairs manager of the Denver-based American Water Works Association, a trade group representing 3,500 of the nation's metropolitan water providers. "I suspect smaller utilities are less likely to do this simply because their financial situations tend to be a bit tighter."

We found many water utilities — large and small — in the United States that have either mandated water leak adjustment policies or ways for customers to submit "courtesy leak adjustment" claims.

John Tang, vice president of government relations and corporate communications at San Jose Water Co., says, "It's really a public benefit, particularly here in California, with the drought we have. It's an incentive to try to motivate customers to fix a leak."

To recover one-time water losses, a customer must contact the agency’s customer service department or fill out a form on the agency's website. Proof of repair must be submitted (a plumber's bill or receipts for parts purchased by the homeowner).

The utility then will reimburse some percentage of the overage caused by the leak in that month. The utility will review the last few months' bills to measure the extent of the overage in the month when the leak occurred.

The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, which serves about 50,000 customers in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina, offers refunds averaging $40 for residential customers and $100 to $140 to commercial customers who have, for example, experienced a broken sprinkler head, says Dottie Hofmann, deputy general manager for finance and administration.

Thousands of your fellow homeowners across the country take advantage of such policies every year. Denver Water, for example, had 1,997 claims in 2014 and 2,222 claims in 2015, says Travis Thompson, media relations coordinator.

In Fairfax County, Va., in suburban Washington, D.C., the Fairfax Water Authority saw 1,773 of its accounts — the agency services 2 million — file a courtesy leak adjustment claim in 2015, says Susie Miller, acting public affairs officer. The average claim was $211.60.

West Virginia American Water provides what it calls a priority leak adjustment that covers only hidden leaks, says Laura Jordan, external affairs manager. That's part of the agency's policy as mandated by the state's public service commission.

"Typically, it's most often a service line, or plumbing in the wall, with a leak not detected until the customer gets their next water bill and sees exceptionally high usage," says Jordan.

So if you simply have a leaky toilet in the Mountain State, you're on your own regarding that water — and money — going down the drain.

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