DUBAI // A family have been hit with a Dh54,000 water bill after nearly a million gallons leaked from a crack in the underground pipe that supplies their home.
The leak half a metre below their parking space went undetected for about four months while the Furniturewala family in Arabian Ranches received only estimated bills from Dewa, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.
The shock came in June when Dewa produced an accumulated bill for the previous four months.
"I had complained to Dewa earlier that we were not getting water in our villa," said Juzer Furniturewala, 45, who is paying the mammoth bill in six instalments.
"They changed the meter without informing me. I was receiving the old readings for March, April and May. The new meter readings were only reflected in June.
"Had they given us the actual bills earlier, it would have minimised my financial loss and reduced the wastage of water."
Dewa said yesterday it would investigate the matter and if Mr Furniturewala's account of events proved correct they would refund his money.
"Our billing system is correct and is part of an international billing system. We are not here to take people's money and don't want people to fear us," said Abdullah Al Hajri, Dewa's executive vice president of customer services.
However, Mr Furniturewala said Dewa's delay in providing accurate bills was what had cost him dearly.
"It is Dewa's responsibility to provide accurate and timely billing to the customer and share the responsibility for this high billing. They should tighten their processes," he said.
"There should be some consumer protection against such hidden defects. In my case, the leakage was underground and would never be visible to the homeowner or tenant."
Environmental experts said residents need to scrutinise their monthly utility bills, verify meter readings and regularly check water pipes inside and under their homes to prevent huge bills and wastage of water.
"People should review their monthly bills," said Dr Mohammed Mostafa, associate professor for water resources and environmental engineering at UAE University, Al Ain.
"People can also check if their meter readings are the same given by the authority. Owners could also have contracts with maintenance companies to do regular checks of tanks and pipes every couple of months."
Dr Mostafa said government entities had a role in conserving water, which he said was becoming "more expensive than oil" in GCC countries.
"It is a precious commodity and not just the responsibility of the owner. They should provide regular and accurate readings."
He said the average Abu Dhabi resident consumes more than 500 litres of water a day, giving the capital the dubious distinction of consuming the most water in the world. In Europe, the consumption is between 200 and 300 litres a day.
"Instead of an almost uniform price slab for water, people should be charged more if they consume more." This must be linked to the number of residents in each household and the type of house, whether villa or apartment, he said.
Liquid of Life, a water filtration company, said people could do their own checks, which could lead to a lower consumption.
"Homeowners can try to find out where exactly their water meters are," said the company's Rukhsana Kausar. "They are usually easily accessible.
"It will help families understand what their consumption is and what the reading is. If there is a spike in the reading, they can contact the authority. This is a good exercise as it will encourage people to consume less water and become environmentally conscious."
She said people are usually surprised by how much they consume when they check their meter. "It will ensure a change in habits and people will turn off taps, take shorter showers and invest in devices that reduce consumption."