Johns Island Homeowner Gets $77,000 Water Bill

Steve Cardwell was billed $77,567.64 after his meter incorrectly said he used 9,900,000 gallons of water.

People expect utility bills to be higher during hot summer months, but imagine the shock of opening a water bill and seeing a five-digit number. It happened to a man who recently moved into a new home on Johns Island.

Steve Cardwell, 71, opened his bill Saturday and saw he owed $77,567.64 for using 9,900,000 gallons of water. The sticker shock quickly turned into anxiety, because he had to wait 48-hours until St. John's Water Company opened Monday morning, and he could talk to someone about his problem.

"My worst fear was that they were going to hold my feet to the fire for $77,000, which I have no way of paying to them," Cardwell said. "I was kind of pacing the floors for a little while. I had to calm myself down and say 'okay, this is, I know this is a mistake'."

As it turned out, he wasn't using that much water. There was a problem with the water meter. Cardwell said service crews were already fixing his meter by the time he got home from the utility company.

There's a lesson in all of this, Caldwell said. He never pays bills online, opting instead to do it the old-fashioned way with a checkbook.

If he had signed up for auto-draft payment, he may not have caught the mistake as quickly, and things could have turned out much differently.

"First of all, they couldn't have gotten $77,000 out of my checking account, but what they would have taken out was everything I had in it, I'm sure," he said. "Then I would have really been up a creek without a paddle, because I would have been out of money and pretty much out of luck."

The water company corrected his balance. Caldwell wrote a check for the corrected total, which came out to only $18.76.

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