After finding a concealed irrigation timer, Conservation Specialists Alinx St. Louis, left, and Juan Santiago were able to pinpoint the sources of a Delaney Park homeowner’s spike in water consumption.*
*Photo taken from a distance of more than six feet.

OUC’s Sustainability team is stocked with people persons. They like helping customers, going to their homes to do conservation audits or locate the sources of their high utility bills.

But that was then, before the coronavirus crisis led to the new normal of human interaction.

And this is now, with most Conservation Specialists working from home and talking to customers over the phone. In some cases, they conduct “modified” field visits to resolve a customers’ inexplicable spikes in energy and/or water consumption.

As David Mayer, Supervisor of Sustainability, explains it, “modified” means specialists no longer can enter homes in search of water leaks or energy wasters, and they must maintain six feet of social distancing from customers and co-workers when in the field. They’re also encouraged to be more cognitive of using the hand sanitizers and wipes carried in their vehicles.

Sustainability Supervisor David Mayer gets the job done from home, as do his teammates.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to help people,” says Mayer. “We can still do conservation audits by researching their usage and talking to them by phone, and in some cases we tell them we will do an in-home audit after this coronavirus situation is over. But when a customer calls because utility bill is unusually high, we need to see if we help the customer.”

Which is why Conservation Specialists Alinx St. Louis and Juan Santiago arrived in separate vehicles at a circa 1922 Southern plantation-style home on a large corner lot in Delaney Park on Thursday (March 26). Homeowner Larry Jarnes summoned OUC’s help after noticing a spike in water consumption, with one utility bill five times higher than usual.

“Our bills have been around $500 a month for electric and water,” Jarnes says. “One bill was for $2,600.”

St. Louis says consumption data showed the property’s high watermark (pun intended) reached 89,000 gallons in February.

A broken irrigation line under brick pavers was one source of the homeowner’s high water usage.

Expecting this call to be like so many others, he and Santiago, working side by side but not literally, thought they could locate the source of the problem in 30 minutes. Nearly two hours later, after finally finding an unaccounted for irrigation timer concealed behind a five-foot hedge, St. Louis pinpointed the sources of Jarnes’ water woes:

The timer was set to water his home’s thick St. Augustine lawn three days a week, not two for homes in the St. John’s River Water Management District, the run cycles were too long and, ta da, water was bubbling up from a broken irrigation pipe running under brick pavers.

Jarnes was relieved the sources of the water usage spike had been discovered, and he received more good news when St. Louis told him OUC, as a customer service, would make a billing adjustment so he would pay only for his average water consumption.

While under the new work protocols, the Sustainability team is testing a program similar to its spike in water consumption response. Team members are flagging spikes in customers’ energy use and calling them to offer their help with finding the culprit remotely.

“It’s been great,” Mayer says of the pilot program. “The auditors love doing it and it’s helping people. At the same time we’re promoting the Usage Dashboard on MyOUC and our Power Pass prepaid program. It turned out to be perfect timing for testing this pilot project.”

Sustainability team members, from left, Shawn Spriggs, Manuel Mena and Andres Burgos help customers remotely.