Huge water bill; freeze; meter failure; who should pay?

I am facing a one-month water bill for $1,800 on a vacant house. It's the result of winter freezes that broke -- not my pipes -- but the Water Company meter installed in my basement. I'm hoping that someone here has seen (or, hopefully not, experienced) a similar catastrophe and can tell me how the issue was resolved.
Background: I live in California. When my mother passed away two years ago, she left me our first family home, a small two-bedroom cottage in New England. I visited the house last summer and, when I left, closed all the valves on water pipes leading from the meter in my basement to other parts of the house.
Late this spring, I received an emergency call from the Water Company. The caller said my most recent meter reading was very high, and a supervisor who went to check my (vacant) house heard water running inside. He shut down the street supply and told his company to notify me in California.
I called a next-door neighbor who had the key to my place; and he went inside with the Water Company supervisor to take a look. In the basement where the water meter was mounted (an underground, cinder-block constructed partial basement about 15 x 25'), there was about a half-inch of standing water. The neighbor, the Water Company supervisor, and a handyman I hired to vacuum out the water, all say they saw no signs that the basement had been flooded above that 1/2" level.
Despite this, the Water Company says my vacant house used 385,000 gallons of water in the month prior to the leak discovery. The rep says a "freeze plate" on the water meter broke, and that was the source of my $1,800 leak.
This leads to several questions that I hope anyone who's read this far can help me with.
Is it possible for 385,000 gallons of water, in an 15 x 25' chamber with =no= history of dampness from the outside, to simply disappear? (Again, there were no water-marks on the walls, peeled stickers at about 9" high on a floor-mounted furnace near the water meter, or anything else to indicate flooding above the 1/2" level that everyone saw.)
Is 385,000 gallons even reasonable for the flow expected from a broken water meter "freeze plate" in a month's time?
And, if anyone has been in this position before, is the Water Company on solid ground in charging me for a spill that came from a failure in their own equipment? (If I hadn't shut off the valves coming out of the meter, and/or my own pipes had broken, I'd feel differently about this.)
I have put these questions, in a gentlemanly way, to the Water Company. The rep now has agreed to send the meter out for "verification" -- to see whether it produced correct readings for the amount of water I'm being charged for. But I'm told that if the meter checks out correctly, there's no further avenue for appeal.
Any conclusions, suggestions, condolences?
Thanks, Scoot
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Did their equipment fail because you didn't heat the house?
at 6 gallons/minute that would come out to 260,000 gallons
I would wait for the test to come back on the meter.
then call the testing company and ask them a few questions
You do realize that by letting the house get below freezing you may well have caused problems with pipes in the walls freezing too?
Wayne

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Scoot sorry for calling you a troll, at the time you posted last night , my cloan was trolling and posting at different sites, there were alot of bs posts and I thought yours was a troll to, sorry. Does your basement have a drain or sump pump, It was vacant you say, utility and phone will show this.. A freeze may have moved the guage. Once a meter guy came to my place, said we used no water for 3 months and checked all wires , everything, , he was looking to see how we disabled the remote reader.. After a few hours he was convinced we cheated, I asked if he checked the outside reader, he said they cannot go bad, I told him try a new one we were hit by lightning, he did, the outside reader was bad. He told me, he was tought this was impossible ,, but it was bad.. The average supply puts out 4 to 5 gal min. 385000 is equal to more than 8 .9 gal min. more than enough to fill 10 good swimming pools, this amount should be to amazing for your water co to beleive is nothing other than a freak freeze problem. the rep said freeze plate,,I say it jammed the gears in freezing, Either way you have to fight it,,,, demand the bad meter back, for independant testing, in writing, today.. and talk to the rep that said it was frozen...
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mark Ransley wrote:

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Given 'normal' city water pressure, or as little as 50 psi on a well water system, you get much more than 4-5 gpm from an open ended 1/2" line; more like 8, and if the line was 3/4" which is usually the minimum service line size around here.... you can push double digits. Now if the line were 1", you go mid to high 20s gpm. So it depends on the service line ID and the meter (usually 5/8" around here) but the size of the freeze plug/plate hole and pressure.
Gary Quality Water Associates
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another troll
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Scoot wrote:

have a licensed plumber repair it and claim that there was a leakage from the break then you dont pay for the water(it does not matter if it was on your property).... the break is what caused the leak and you dont pay, only pay what the average was on the bill for the previous month last year..... do you have a drain in the basement?? if so that is where the water went so thats why it only went up to an inch or so.....
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How is he going to prove he did things right when he turned the heat off with exposed pipes in his basement where the temperature drops to way below zero for hours and sometimes days, even if they were before the meter?
Tom J
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It's amazing how much water can flow when it has 24 hours/day to do so. Sorry to hear about your problem, talk to someone about how to freeze protect (minimum 50f) an unlived in house. If you didn't protect the meter and water line plumbing from freezing and drain the lines and use antifreeze in the toilets etc...., why shouldn't you be held responsible; it's your house?
You really need to check the rest of the water lines (pressure test) and such and maybe thank the freeze plate on the meter if it prevented other freeze damage. If not and you didn't get the insurance right while you visited, don't expect any coverage.
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wrote:

Our local water department routinely resolves pipe breaks in favor of the customer. I also once had a meter freeze and split, and was not charged for the water that month. But...
I don't live in your jurisdiction. My experience may have no bearing on yours. Your best bet is to work it out there.
Jeff
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No one seemed to address this one. I got 5' of water in my basement when a creek dammed up during a power outage. When they undammed the creek, the 5' drained away almost immediately. So, without knowing anything about your basement, it seems entirely possible.
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Scoot didn't say that he's turned the water back on yet. He may also broken pipes.
Don <donwiss at panix.com>.
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