Do you believe in miracles? The people who sell Akron’s water do.
One of their residential customers is highly skeptical. In fact, Debbi McDowell insists this seemingly odd phenomenon is sheer fantasy.
Last year, she started to notice a remarkable sameness in the bills the Public Utilities Bureau sent to her West Akron home.
In February 2013 ... March 2013 ... December 2013 ... January 2014 ... and February 2014, her water bill was the same: $61.40.
Exactly the same.
To the penny.
Also known as identical.
She thought that was inexplicably odd, particularly in view of the radical changes in her family’s activities from month to month: a two-week, out-of-town vacation one of those months, followed by a month with a big Super Bowl party (lots of extra flushing) and also a burst pipe with water gushing everywhere, resulting in three consecutive days of running the washing machine constantly.
So she called the water folks and asked whether the recurring number was based on an estimate.
Nay, nay, came the response. This is an actual reading from your water meter.
“I have called them — when I can get through — numerous times and I am always told the same thing: It is an actual reading,” she says. “I ask how that can be when I was on vacation. ... Same answer. ‘Actual reading.’ ”
Asked to explain this odd phenomenon, city spokeswoman Stephanie York did some research and declared it anything but odd.
“This ‘phenomenon’ occurs within many of our accounts,” she says via email. “People are creatures of habit, and it’s not unusual for the same HCF [hundred cubic feet] of monthly consumption to occur.”
McDowell wasn’t buying it.
“My husband and I laughed all weekend at Ms. York’s response. We now feel like we are zombies that roam our house using the exact amount of water, to the penny, every month. ...
“We are ‘creatures of habit.’ Maybe we can get a part on that new Akron TV show — The Walking Water Dead.”
As it turns out, the answer cannot be found in a low-budget horror flick. Figuring this out requires something more along the lines of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Let’s take a look at those bills.
In November, the McDowells’ meter read 70. In December, it went to 74. January’s reading ended up on 78. In theory, then, the usage was identical — 4 HCF each month.
But if you delve more deeply into the numbers, this whole thing starts to make sense.
An HCF consists of a whopping 748 gallons of water. Therefore, you could use, say, 3,000 gallons of water one month, and 3,400 gallons the next month, and 2,800 the next, and your economic scoreboard could remain the same: 4 HCF.
“No one uses the same amount of water each month,” says Akron Utilities Manager Andre Blaylock. “But we bill in hundred-cubic-foot increments. ...
“It can take several months for that fraction of an extra HCF to equal an additional unit of billable water.”
The variations usually are more noticeable during the summer because of lawn or garden watering or additional occupants in a house, he says.
So, has Debbi McDowell seen the light? Does she now believe in miracles?
“I suppose that it makes some sense,” she responds. “However, the variance in my usage doesn’t make sense when I’m on vacation for over two weeks in December.
“Before I contacted you I asked numerous family and friends if their water bills were ever the same amount, and they all said no.”
Too bad for them. No cameos in The Walking Water Dead.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.