Amid all of the backflips, balance beam routines and tumbling at Golden’s Gymnastics in Kankakee, aspiring gymnasts also flush toilets, wash their hands and drink from a fountain. The water usage here is pretty routine, according to coach Shelly Rodgers, which is why she and the gym owners were shocked when they received a huge water bill last September that was almost 100 times the usual monthly amount. It was the type of bill that could have broken the family business.
Aqua America of Illinois charged Golden’s for more than 600,000 gallons of water that month, exponentially more than the 7,000 gallons the gym averaged each month over the past year. To put that in perspective, 600,000 gallons of water is roughly equivalent to the amount in an Olympic-sized pool.
Rodgers says Aqua blamed the high bill on “an invisible leak” somewhere in the facility, which made no sense to the business owners.
“The building couldn’t stand if there’s 680,000 gallons of water underneath us,” Rodgers said. “Clearly there’s something wrong.”
Rodgers said she asked Aqua of Illinois to help her understand how a bill could suddenly be so out of whack, but got nowhere with the water utility. It serves 225,000 customers in the Kankakee area. Its parent company, Aqua America, serves approximately 3 million customers in eight states.
When NBC 5 Responds looked into Rodgers’ case, we found similar complaints of mishandled bills, billing practices and other customer service complaints lodged against Aqua on the Better Business Bureau’s website, where Aqua of Illinois has a B- rating.
After we submitted questions about the gym’s complaint, Aqua swapped out the facility’s old water meter for a new smart meter and wiped out the majority of the inflated September bill, reducing it from $8,235 to $332. An Aqua spokesperson offered this statement:
“Aqua cannot say that the facility’s previously registered usage was an error. In fact, Aqua had the former meter tested by an independent, certified third party testing laboratory and the results show that it was registering accurately. Between the time the new meter was installed on Sept. 29 and October 16 when Aqua checked it again, it showed 3,400 gallons of water used. That is on par with Golden's Gymnastics’ average monthly usage over the past year, not including the increases seen in May or September.”
“Based on our previous discussions with the property owner, we are confident that the usage increase earlier this year was the result of a leaking toilet valve that was subsequently fixed. This recent spike was more significant and could indicate another leak within the property, which we explained to the customer. However, based on the new meter registering in line with Golden’s average monthly usage, and because they have consistently been customers in good standing, we made the decision to cancel the September bill and reissue one based on the facility's average monthly use over the past year, excluding May and September. At the same time, we have asked the property owner to closely inspect their plumbing equipment for leaks and monitor their water use by checking the meter daily to identify any spikes. If they see any significant increases, we've asked them to contact us right away.”
Rodgers says she feels grateful that Aqua wiped out the inflated bill and installed the new smart meter, but she remains skeptical. In addition to her already-busy routine as a gymnastics coach, landlord, and mom, Rodgers says she is adding a new weekly task. “Now I’ll be reading the meter weekly,” she says,” to make sure the results are where they need to be.