The water bill. It's one of those utility payments we have to pay each month or, well, you don't have water. For most of us anyway. Right now Atlanta Watershed has more than 800 open cases of water theft. According to city investigators, that comes to millions of dollars in unpaid water bills. But they’re collecting the money one home at a time.
So far, Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management investigators have collected more than a million of the 5.4 million dollars that they believe people have stolen in recent years from the public system.
Investigators cited a Southwest Atlanta renter for "interfering with public utilities" - using water the city claims she didn't pay for.
Keisha Dixon is the utility's lead water theft investigator.
“In this instance what you saw was a regular meter that we have cut off and someone has (come) out and illegally cut it back on.”
In South Atlanta, the FOX 5 I-Team drove up on a drug bust. While APD narcotics' unit cracked a safe a water theft team popped open a rigged water meter box. Neither the home's owner nor the renter was implicated in the drug raid, but both were cited for illegally siphoning city water. A judge will have to decide who's responsible.
Workers disconnected the line, but if someone goes to Municipal Court like we witnessed one day, they can get on a payment plan. But not everybody was interested in paying up.
“Ms. Parks was accused of interfering with public utilities system to the tune of $49,823,” a prosecutor told the judge.
Yep, she was cited for using more than $49,000 in public water without paying for it. She plans to go to trial.
“It's a huge problem for the city of Atlanta,” said Keisha Dixon.
Water theft happens in the most unexpected places. Investigators took us to a neighborhood with large homes and manicured lawns. The meter we saw was connected using a PVC pipe to circumvent the system.
The College Park homeowner said it's as much a surprise to him as anyone.
“It really was, yes, ma'am. (So you didn't get any citations that you're aware of?) Like I said I'm always out of town.
The city tells a different story. This is not their first time to this home.
“No. No. No. The second time was when we took the meter out. The first time was when we just locked it up for non-payment.”
This homeowner is in South Fulton. Had he been caught a second time in the city of Atlanta, Water Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina, who
has pushed this pay up program, says they will be arrested.
“It's only fair to our paying customers that those who tie into the system illegally, this needs to stop.”