"I said 'what the hell did my mom go buy a whale?'" John Bartnik said. "So, I came over here, I looked in in the basement -- no whale."
Frustrated, he turned to CBS 6 for help.
Bartnik says back in February his mom had to be admitted to the hospital for several weeks.
While checking on her South Richmond home, Bartnik says he turned on the tap for two days to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting.
After mom passed away in March, Bartnik took over the bills and discovered January and February's bill for $1, 000.06.
"I called them and asked them to take a look," said Bartnik.
According to Bartnik's mom's payment history, the highest bill she ever paid was $142.
"And when they did take a look at it, they called me back and said well, the only recourse I had is to write a letter to explain why I might have used that much water," said Bartnik.
CBS 6 learned during the same billing cycles, the neighborhood was undergoing a drainage improvement project.
City utility crews marked the street to Bartnik's mother's home.
"We're the closest house to the road as it is. And they dug up all through the ditch outside, beside the house," said Bartnik.
CBS 6 contacted the city. A few minutes after our call, we saw two guys taking measurements from the street to that home.
Marianne Jorgenson, with the department of Public utilities, sent CBS 6 this statement:
“The high water consumption was caused by the customer leaving on a faucet during the winter so that the house water pipes would not freeze. The customer’s daughter freely admitted this information to Lynette Sherman, a supervisor in our Customer Care Center, during conversation about a high bill on February 26, 2014. During this conversation, Ms. Sherman offered for DPU to do a high bill investigation; however, the customer’s daughter indicated that she had her brother turn on the water to avoid the house pipes freezing while their mother was in the hospital. Ms. Sherman advised that the running faucet would result in the high bill she received.”
Jorgenson said city utility crews did check the water meter twice at that home during the billing cycle. And they say it's legit. Now, they're offering the family a payment plan.
John Bartnik says he'll pay the bill, just not a thousand dollars.
"If I owe it. I mean I just want to be fair. That's all," said Bartnik. "I mean they can call me up and say oops we messed up, what do you say we take a years worth of bills and average them out and you pay that, that would be fair."