If you've ever had to shut off your water in an emergency, you know that every minute counts to stop a flood. But homeowners in Bedford no longer have access to the only shut-off valve many of them have ever used because the city is now locking up its water meters.
"We received notice on Monday that they would be switching out the meter but nothing about the fact that the box would be locked and inaccessible," said homeowner John Farish.
Farish is used to doing his own plumbing work.
"And this is where I come and shut the water off for the house,” he said. “I don't know of any other place where I can shut off the water to the whole house."
That's the case for most homeowners, though it's actually against state law to operate city-owned meters. But Bedford's public works director Kenny Overstreet says that's not why they're adding the locks.
"We're not locking it to keep the homeowner out,” Overstreet said. “We're locking it to protect the city's property."
They're replacing 15,000 old meters with new digital ones that are more accurate and more expensive. The meter box now contains close to $600 worth of equipment that can transmit water usage information directly to the city, without a meter reader coming out.
"If you call up, have a concern about your bill, we're able to look it up, walk you through it,” Overstreet said. “You can be looking at the same time, show you what we're seeing."
But in an emergency if you need to shut off the water quickly and can't find the home's private valve, it's an average 20-minute wait during business hours for a city worker to get there and do it for you, double that in off times.
"You can do a lot of damage to the interior of a house in 20 minutes," Farish said.
That idea is sparking frustrations for “Do It Yourselfers” who now can't do this alone.
"Knowing where the box is, knowing how to cut the water off, it's kind of like having candy up in a jar but you can't open the jar and get at the candy," said Farish.
Bedford is also hoping the locks will cut down on liability claims from people stepping into open meter boxes and hurting themselves.
If you don't know where your home's private shut-off valve is, you can call the city’s public works department at 817-952-2200 and someone will come help you look for it. That’s also the number to call if you need to access your water meter during business hours.
For after-hours emergency assistance, you can call the police dispatch non-emergency line at 817-952-2127.