WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has learned that the Honolulu Board of Water Supply overcharged the U.S. Air Force and Bellows Air Force Station more than $350,000 over the past two years, an amount that may need to be reimbursed using ratepayer money.
The utility, which faced heavy criticism in 2013 over inaccurate residential water bills, said it plans to refund the Air Force's money and is looking at alternative options to do so, like providing the military a credit for future use.
That plan, though, could take three years to pay back.
"$350,000 is a lot for someone to pay," said City Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, a frequent critic of the utility.
The board said in a statement that the problem was due to changes in the internal water system at Bellows.
"It was not the result of a billing error; it resulted from a modification to the existing water system at Bellows AFB that was not made known to the BWS," the board said.
The board says that sometime in 2015, the Air Force shut down its portion of a waterline, on that supplies thousands of gallons of water to Bellows and the city's nearby beach park through a common waterline.
The problem: The board continued to bill the Air Force, even though its meter showed no water use. Hawaii News Now was told the board relied on usage estimates from past bills.
The mistake underscores the problem of estimated billings, which has landed the Board of Water Supply in hot water before.
"They shouldn't be estimating, especially when it's that high and no one was using any water," said Kobayashi.
In 2013, the board was using estimates for more than half its customers, resulting in a spike in complaints over soaring bills.
The board said it has greatly reduced the number of estimated bills using a new automated system, but critics believe the Bellows mistake shows that the problem hasn't been solved.
"Once again, it shows that there needs to be a review and an overhauling of the city's Board of Water Supply's billing process," said environmental activist Carroll Cox.