AUSTIN (KXAN) - Texans Richard and Chris Rubis are not the sort of people who waste water.
Retired and keeping a watchful eye on every expense, the couple keeps buckets near the bathtub and the kitchen sink to capture cold water while waiting for the hot water to flow. Then, the filled buckets are used to water the house plants and the backyard garden.
Their monthly water bill never tops $100. Well, almost never.
In August, Austin Water Utility sent them a bill for nearly $1,000. They did nothing out of the ordinary since their last bill. No leaks were found in their pipes. No swampy sections in their yard.
"The bill said we owed $937.19 for water," said Chris Rubis, after calling the KXAN Tipline. "We about fell out of our chair. Most of our bills are under $100, when we got one for nearly a thousand it shocked us. We didn't know how to respond."
The couple was billed for using 80,000 gallons in August. That's nearly 10 times their normal consumption. If they used that much, they said, they have no idea where the water went.
Austin Water spokesman Jason Hill said the utility could not pinpoint the usage. But he offered some educated guesses.
"There could be leaks in the irrigation system that goes into the ground," he said. "There are so many possibilities, water is an evasive, elusive element."
But Richard Rubis said he monitors his sprinklers regularly. "For anything to be leaking they have to go through a valve. All my valves work, that's what I check for."
Chris Rubis used to design software programs to monitor utility billing. "If this had been that much of a jump why are they not working their exception report?" she said. "This should have been flagged.
"We make a very concerted effort to reduce our water foot print. We don't use a lot, we are probably the lowest user in the neighborhood. If everybody was doing what we do we'd have fuller lakes."
The utility told the Rubis' to pay up or have their water cut off. They paid.
"We have no recourse, we have no rights," said Chris Rubis. "And if you're doing this to us and you're telling me this happens all the time then how many other people are you doing this to?"
Austin Water told KXAN they would work out an adjustment on the Rubis' August bill but as of midday Thursday they had made no contact with the family.
This report does end on a positive note: The Rubis' just got their new water bill for September. It was $90.
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