Utilities in Montana are more affordable than nearly every state in the country. According to a Move.org report, only Idaho and Utah residents spend less on their monthly utility bills. The average total utility cost per month in Montana is $359.03 when you add up Electricity, Natural Gas, Water, Internet, and Cable.

The national average for water utilities is $40 a month. My monthly bill was falling between $25 and $35 a month for the past year. Until I opened my latest water bill.

Before I reveal how much my bill was, let me recap how it got there.

Apparently, I didn't program my sprinkler system correctly before leaving for vacation. Knowing the forecast was going to be hot and dry during my time away, I set a 4am start time for each one of my six sprinkler zones to water the lawn for 20 minutes, every other morning. What I actually did was program all my watering zones to run 6 full cycles that would start at 4am. Then again at 4:20, 4:40, 5:00, 5:20, and 5:40am.

Forgot to mention I have multiple "programs" in my sprinkler system so it actually ran that routine EVERY day. That means the sprinklers ran through 6 watering cycles, for an hour and 40 minutes a day, for at least 2 weeks straight. I noticed them still running early one morning when I got back in town and shut off the timer completely.

So what was the damage? In July, I used approximately 1500 gallons and the water bill was $14. After I incorrectly set the sprinkler system, I used almost 40,000 gallons in about three weeks. Water bill was $172.

According to a message on my City of Billings Public Works Utilities monthly statement, "APPROXIMATELY 3.5% OF YOUR WATER SERVICE CHARGES WILL BE UTILIZED FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE WEST END RESERVOIR AND WATER PLANT PROJECTS." I should get a plaque on that reservoir after my contribution this month.

There should be a way to sign up for a text message or email alert you receive when water or other utility usage spikes over a couple of days so you can be warned of a potential problem or abnormal usage. Or, maybe I should read the manual before messing with the sprinkler system.

What's the largest utility bill you've ever gotten?

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