Stephanie Anfinson nearly choked when she saw her water bill for the month of July.
The resident of Johnson Ranch in northern Pinal County claims that despite no changes in her usage habits, her bill was nearly triple what it has been during other summer months.
Stephanie and Todd Anfinson's $188 July bill states that in one month they used 45,000 gallons of water — enough to fill four backyard swimming pools. They don't even own a pool.
Likewise, neighbors Jason and Jennifer Meyer's bills state their usage jumped from 6,000 gallons in March to 19,000 in April. The couple was out of town both months, and no one was staying at their home, they said.
Resident Camrin Benston's bill also more then tripled between March and April, from 6,000 gallons to 20,000 gallons. Since then, it has crept as high as 31,000 gallons in July.
However, Benston began checking her water meter in August because she was suspicious of the unusually high bills. When her August bill arrived, she was able to prove that Johnson Ranch water company Johnson Utilities LLC had charged her for an extra 9,000 gallons.
"They told me it was human error," she said. "I can't wait for them to read my meter again this month."
Even more frustrating, Benston said, is that when she complained about her previous bills being too high, Johnson Utilities representatives told her someone must be stealing her water.
"It's the most idiotic excuse I've ever heard in my life," she said, adding that about 20 other neighbors have told her their bills reflect impossibly high water usage.
Johnson Utilities engineer Brian Tompsett said construction workers in Johnson Ranch were caught recently using a resident's hose to wash their vehicles, so water theft is a real possibility.
Still, Randy and Klarissa Jones said one of them is always home, so if someone had been stealing their water they would have seen it happen. The Joneses also began reading their meter in August after receiving three bills in a row stating they used 23,000 gallons a month. So far they have only used 11,600 gallons in September, with one week left in the current billing period.
Arizona Department of Water Resources spokesman Jack Lavelle said average water usage varies per household, but that 40,000 gallons in one month seems extremely high.
Lavelle said the department has had a "stormy relationship" with Johnson Utilities — it even has a designated "Johnson Ranch expert," he added.
Arizona Corporation Commission spokeswoman Heather Murphy said that since January, the commission has received five complaints from Johnson Utilities customers in Johnson Ranch. Two of them were about water bills. The complaints are still being researched, she said.
Tompsett said Johnson Utilities workers read meters monthly, and that they are calibrated to ensure accuracy. Still, Klarissa Jones said she regrets that she hasn't been more diligent about checking the meter herself.
"I feel frustrated because I can't prove anything," she said. "But in my head I know it just can't be right."