We're on meters - there goes the neighborhood.

When life hands me lemons, I like to think I am the type of person who makes lemonade.

Not anymore. I can't afford the water.

Shortly after word leaked out that we had lost bragging rights to the state's best tasting water to our neighbors in Minden, the Gardnerville Town Water Co. - in an impressive case of bad timing - sent customers their first bills under the new metering system.

According to water company poo-bahs, the average residential bill now is $60 to $70 per month as opposed to $43 we previously paid under the flat rate.

I always thought we were above average in my little Spruce Street neighborhood, but this is ridiculous.

My water bill skyrocketed from $43 for two months to $126.50. Am I three times cleaner? Three times happier? I don't think so.

According to the water company's calculations, my previous meter reading was 151,000 and my present reading is 233,000. That is an embarrassing 82,000 "units" I consumed in two months. I'm going out on a limb here, but I am guessing that a unit equals a gallon.

Let's see, that's 82,000 gallons divided by 60 or around 1,350 gallons a day. There must be a mistake. I don't think Aristotle Onassis used 82,000 gallons to keep his shipping fleet afloat.

(If anyone at the water company would like to check, I am Account No. 128, that's 1-2-8. Maybe somebody transposed the numbers?)

I got off easy, according to the talk on the street. I am hearing reports of $300 to $400 water bills. I've yet to meet a person who was billed less than $90. That includes a 91-year-old widow whose bill reportedly was $98.

I learned my lesson, though. No more gratuitous, partial loads of laundry.

The grass is now the color of lima beans with an advanced case of freezer burn and the lawn crackles when I walk on it.

Overnight, my neighborhood has changed. The summer shrieks of children dashing through the sprinkler on a hot July evening have been replaced by profanities as their parents calculated their water units.

Neighbors who once traded recipes and friendly gossip now watch each other like hawks. As soon as somebody backs down their driveway, strangers pull in and wash their cars.

We're starting to hang dirty laundry on each others' clotheslines in the hopes they'll get mixed in with their wash next time and save someone a laundry load.

I myself have fallen victim. Now that I work nights, I am an easy target. The first few times I picked up wet towels on the bathroom floor that weren't mine, I didn't think a thing of it. Strangers' socks in my dryer? No big deal. But after I noticed the grass in my back yard was flattened in the perfect outline of a Slip-N-Slide, I got suspicious.

On further investigation, I found lemon slices soaked in sun tea and Sweet -n- Low clogging up my disposal. Plastic cups in my back yard ... little paper umbrellas.

I suspect my neighbors and their thrifty and thirsty friends were in my house making chichi blender drinks with my ice and my blender while I am working hard to make money to pay my water bill.

To bring an end to the animosity and suspicion on Spruce Street, I have come up with a suggestion of peaceful resistance that Mohandas Gandhi would endorse. The next town water company meeting is Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Gardnerville Volunteer Fire Department. I already checked and the water rates are not on the agenda, but we're invited to "speak our piece" during public comment. Let's make a pact - nobody showers or bathes for the next two weeks. If we can't get some relief, we can make a "stink" of another kind, save money and conserve water at the same time.

And if that doesn't work, I have another plan. Just a few hose lengths away from my house is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day saints. It's across the town boundary in Minden - where the grass is always greener, the water tastes better and the residential rate is a flat $23.80 per month.

There, I understand, people believe 'tis better to give than to receive.

Sheila Gardner is night desk editor at the Nevada Appeal


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