Is the Water Bureau Just Guessing at My Bill?

I haven’t seen anyone reading my water meter reader in ages. And if they’re charging me for something they don’t know for sure that I used, isn’t that just stealing?

I haven’t seen anyone reading my water meter reader in ages. Indeed, it’s so overgrown it’s hard to believe anyone could read it. Is the Water Bureau just guessing at my bill? And if they’re charging me for something they don’t know for sure that I used, isn’t that just stealing? —Recently Mugged Liberal

As made-up reasons not to pay your water bill go, Mugged, this one is pretty weak sauce—and I say that as someone who’s not inexperienced at coming up with water-bill excuses myself. (Though, of course, my real life’s passion is coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t have to pay the arts tax.)

The main problem with your rationale is that you seem to think that the Portland Water Bureau has phased out the practice of reading individual customers’ meters in favor of some estimated statistical jiggery-pokery, which you figure means they won’t be able to prove you’re lying when you say your bill should be zero because your entire family gave up bathing, doing dishes and pooping in 2017.

Unfortunately for you, that jiggery-pokery hasn’t happened—at least, not yet. As of today, residential water bills are still based on old-fashioned meter readings taken by real, live meter readers. The Water Bureau says they can do this in less than a minute, so it’s not that surprising you haven’t seen them. (Also, they probably know to keep a low profile so you won’t come out in your pee-stained boxers and bathrobe and start haranguing them about the Deep State.)

The fact that your meter seems inaccessible to you is adorable, but it means nothing to meter readers, who routinely use everything from hedge trimmers to underwater periscopes to get their data. With apologies to the Postal Service, neither weeds nor mulch nor wasps nor muddy water will stay these couriers from the swift calculation of your appointed bill.

What may stay them, however, is progress: Even as we speak, the Portland City Council is considering a contract that could set that stage for so-called smart meters that can beam your water usage data directly into Hunter Biden’s laptop (or whatever), reducing the need for manual meter reading. This suggests to me that it’s only a matter of time before “meter reader” takes its place on the list of quaint-sounding occupations lost to technology—you know, like “switchboard operator,” or “typewriter salesman,” or “newspaper columnist”—but maybe I’m just paranoid.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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