Atlanta Water appeals board has low rate of refund approval, most cases denied

A retired Atlanta couple has lost an appeal to have their $12,000 water bill adjusted. 

Even with experts who claimed they have no water leak, they can’t win. But a homeowner with a massive leak did walk away a winner. 

East Lake retiree Jeffrey Williams is clear and so were two plumbers he hired: His $12,000 water bill was not caused by a leak on his property.

"The plumber found that we had no leaks. And the plumber found that we had a defective meter," he said. "It's not reading at the proper rate of water consumption."

The family received four months of outsized water bills. EPA data shows they used the same amount of water in four months that Atlanta Watershed Management claimed they would use, generally, in 3.8 years.

"If we used that much water in a four-month period, our yard would look like Lake Lanier," Williams laughed. 

The Williams family was denied a bill adjustment, so they took their case to the city’s appeals board.

DWM’s own notes show that if no leaks were found on the city’s side, they were to go ahead and check the water meter. According to their own testimony at the appeals hearing, Atlanta Water Management did not do that.

This is a transcript of an audio conversation from the June 2023 meeting. Board: "So you say you haven’t been out there to check the meter?" DWM representative: "No, sir."

But still, Mr. Williams lost his appeal on the grounds that the city equipment was checked and working.

The city has checked its equipment, and it was working properly. We are not in the position to grant an adjustment at this time," Board member Roseanne Maltese said.

The vote was 3-2. Two board members sided with the Williams family, but it wasn’t enough. 


The FOX 5 I-Team decided to review 15 months of cases before the appeals board. And we found that a bill adjustment was granted only 22% of the time.

So what does it take to win a bill adjustment? We found a case from April. Arthur Blank, a well-known and well-regarded Atlanta businessman, appealed a nearly $42,000 water bill.

Blank’s Buckhead property has a lot of water - a swimming pool, fountains, and a pond. Through a representative, he admitted at the hearing that a four-month leak was on his property, and it was not the city’s fault.

This transcript from that meeting comes from April 2023.  Blank's  representative: "They did find a major leak on property. Those contractors replaced all floats and installed new pumps"

DWM appeals board records show it grants bill adjustments only 22 percent of the time. 

Blank is like any property owner, he has a right to appeal his bill. And so back in April, he did. And he won. The Department of Watershed Management credited his account almost $20,000. And here’s why – the municipal code says that if you find a leak on your property and show proof that you fixed it, you can be credited for up to two months of billing.


But Williams, who plumbing experts said had no leak, just kept losing. After his case was denied by the appeals board, after the FOX 5 I-Team featured his story, he appealed to the Watershed Commissioner who wrote, "…the basis for the denial was that the consumption for the property remained elevated after the repair was made."

But no repair was made because there was no leak to fix, he said. None. A city representative even made that point to the board during his appeals hearing.

Again, this is a transcript from the June appeals board hearing. DWM representative: "There were indeed no repairs made at the property in November of 2022."

The Williamses have petitioned Fulton County Superior Court to hear their case. The city in its response denies wrongdoing.

The FOX 5 I-Team caught up with the appeals board after a recent meeting. We wanted to know how city code protects a homeowner with a known leak but not one when no leak is found.

"No comment," city attorney Spencer Peck repeatedly a few times. 

We have had trouble getting anything out of the Atlanta Watershed Management’s appeals board. We sent a request for information, like the spelling of a city worker’s name, and were ignored. Even after reminding them that by law they had three business days to respond to media requests, the board chair continued to ignore us. We had to take it finally to the commissioner’s office.

But if there is one thing to learn here is that if you do have a leak, you should fix it and then appeal your bill. Under this circumstance, you are allowed a partial refund.