Editor's note: Denver7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Denver7 stories here.
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Monica Carbone never thought she'd have to chose between paying her water bill or buying groceries until her most recent water bill from the City of Westminster.
"This is my bill. The total is $266.32, which is about a 60% increase from this time last year," said Carbone, who said her water usage has not changed. "This is huge. I have to take grocery money. Money to feed my son in order to pay my water bill. I feel that's wrong."
Dozens of Westminster residents reached out to Contact Denver7 to report a spike in their water bills. Homeowners sent photos of their statements and of lawns they are letting die to save money.
Heather Griffiths' usually pays about $120 for her water, but is now looking at $1,000.
"We might have to move. I don't know what to do. This is incredible," said Griffiths.
Another neighbor pointed out that his HOA does not allow xeriscaping and requires residents maintain their lawns, so even people who want to conserve water can't.
Max Kirschbaum, Westminster's director of public works and utilities, said that there was a rate increase this year averaging 10%, but higher at the higher use tiers. However, he blames irrigating during a particularly hot, dry summer and people staying home because of the coronavirus for spikes in bills.
"We've also seen a total residential water use increase of about 33% over the last four months," he said, adding that the city wants to encourage conservation and offers free audits of irrigation systems.
After this year's rate hike, the City of Westminster does has some of the highest rates in the region for high water users.
"In '18 I voted against those [rate hikes]. I was only person who voted against those increases," said City Councilor David DeMott, who calls Westminster's recent rate increases too aggressive. "One of my concerns is what happens to property values when people can't afford to water their lawns."
Many residents want to know if new water meters or longer billing cycles or the planned new water treatment facility are connected to higher bills. The city says 'no' to all of those questions, but Carbone says the explanation given is not enough when she looks at the bottom line of her bill.
"I cried. I literally cried," said Carbone. "Because I did not know where I was going to find this extra money."