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DEQ: Nearly 30 percent of water produced in Muskegon Heights unaccounted for

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MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. -- A report from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality obtained by FOX 17 through the Freedom of Information Act shows approximately 29 percent of water produced by the Muskegon Heights filtration plant is 'unaccounted' for in the city's system.

In the past several months, FOX 17 has been investigating claims made by several dozen residents who say they've received unusually high water bills from the city, with some bills in the thousands of dollars.

A town hall meeting was held in January to discuss the issue with residents.

Residents, in some cases, are still fighting the issue with the city, while others told FOX 17 their unusually large bills were eventually reassessed  and lowered after city officials were made aware.

Chris Ritter's Muskegon Heights business was billed more $6,000 during one period in 2014 and more than $1,800 during another period that same year, with bills showing he used 812,000 gallons and 208,000 gallons of water respectively during those three-month billing cycles. He claimed the amounts were impossible for his business to use.

"The only thing we have people here doing is using the restrooms and washing their hands,” he said in January. “There’s no showers, no clothes being washed, no hot water heater.”

When his bills were eventually reassessed, Ritter told FOX 17 he was never given an explanation from the city for the high bills and was never told how many gallons of water he actually used.

The inconsistencies could be a result of information recently uncovered by FOX 17 through the Freedom of Information Act.

In the most recent Community Water Supply Sanitary Survey available  for Muskegon Heights, conducted in 2011, the MDEQ rated the city's water system as "restored to satisfactory" overall after it was given a "marginal" rating in a 2008 survey.

The survey, which is generally conducted every four to five years, is used by the MDEQ to evaluate the city's water system to ensure compliance with the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.

Among the continued issues identified in the report, the MDEQ said based on the volumes of treated water produced and the volumes of water billed to customers, a "substantial percentage of water" was "consistently unaccounted."

Through the overall service area, which includes Fruitport and Norton Shores until April 15, the MDEQ found roughly 13 percent of water produced was unaccounted. Within the City of Muskegon Heights the number jumps to approximately 29 percent.

Essentially, more than a quarter of water produced by the city's plant never makes it into a Muskegon Heights home or business, potentially resulting in significant revenue loss.

In general, unaccounted water levels of 10 percent or less are considered acceptable, according to the report.

In neighboring Muskegon a similar report on that city's water system for 2011, the most recent year available, shows 15 percent of water "unaccounted," while the number drops to 9.5 percent when the entire system--including North Muskegon, the county east and north side system and Reoosevelt Park--is taken into consideration.

Calls to Muskegon Heights Mayor Darrell Paige Wednesday evening were not returned.

The MDEQ report pinpoints leaks, inaccurate or uncalibrated meters, unmeterd service connections and accounting errors as being the most common sources for unaccounted water in a system.

On April 15, the City of Muskegon Heights is set to lose roughly 70 percent of its wholesale water customers when Norton Shores and Fruitport Township switch over and begin buying water from the City of Muskegon's water system.

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