The Tampa Water Department says Mae Simpson used more water in her former East Tampa rental home than the Walmart store on Gandy Boulevard.
The utility says she and her 10-year-old son used about the same amount of water as a nearby Target on Gandy. And almost half as much as a car wash in the same area.
Simpson has been in a four-month battle with the water department over her December bill of $6,715.76. The utility says she used nearly 350,000 gallons of water between Oct. 18 and Dec. 17.
"Water,'' Simpson says shaking her head. "The world is going to hell.''
A tearful Simpson says she is tired of fighting the utility.
"I was just overwhelmed. Because when something doesn't make sense and no one is helping you make sense out of it, it affects your mind,'' she said.
Simpson attended a recent water issues forum held by News Channel 8 and told her story.
The problems of high water bills for Tampa residents first surfaced four months ago when a group of neighbors in Dana Shores emailed 8 On Your Side irate about sudden spikes in their bills.
In the days that followed, hundreds of other Tampa water customers complained about their charges.
Since those calls, the city has conducted an internal investigation and blamed several factors for the higher bills, ranging from cold weather to meter readers not doing their jobs.
The city has implemented a plan to read meters on a monthly basis — instead of bimonthly — and future bills will be more detailed.
The utility also adjusted the higher bills if residents could prove they had repaired leaks on their properties.
But some residents still have problems with high bills that are unresolved, including Simpson, who was renting a 1,736-square-foot house with two bedrooms and one bathroom. She moved from the rental home at 6924 E. 21st Ave. on Dec. 17.
The water department says the average Tampa home uses about 12,000 gallons over two months. The city says Simpson used more than 340,000 gallons.
Who uses that much water?
In two months, the Walmart on Gandy used 149,600 gallons; the Target used some 350,812 gallons, about the same as Simpson. The Gandy car wash, where water runs almost all day, used about 748,000 gallons.
Simpson argues that her bill is not rational.
"It's an amount that could make you have a heart attack. Be real,'' she said. "I've acquired hypertension. I'm on medication right now.''
The city says the amount of water used is correct.
This is where the issue gets complicated.
Although Simpson formerly rented the property, the water bill was in her name. Simpson told the water department in January that a toilet at the home had been running for about a month and wasn't sure if it had been repaired.
A water department worker inspected the meter on Jan. 25 and concluded there must be a broken water pipe inside the house.
The city says Simpson's landlord won't allow water department workers to inspect the property for leaks.
The landlord is in a dispute with Simpson over some appliances and denied there were any leaks on the property, according to a utility document.
So Simpson's bill remains in limbo.
"I'll take this to my grave before I pay it,'' she said.
If her water bill is not resolved, Simpson says, she will move from Florida.
"Pack up and leave and that's cowardly, but I cannot allow this to kill me, affect my health any more. It's not healthy for me,'' she said.