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My clients was socked with a garbage collection lien. Fortunately, it wasn't that significant, so rather than contest it, he just went ahead and paid for it. To contest it would have involved a lot of time among the buyers, the escrow officer, the agents...and there's no guarantee it would have been resolved satisfactorily.
I'd raise the issue on a matter of principle, with the title company and the utility. There's a certain sense of satisfaction in doing that....then hope for the best.
You're not responsible for the past water bill. The water company will go after the previous owner through collections. They should be able to set up your water once they have the supporting document. Speak to the water company to find out which documents they exactly they need.
As Ron mentioned, try writing or visiting the water department. They may be willing to work with you or pursue the bill with the prior owner. Sometimes that's not the case and a lien is placed on the property for the past due amount. Lenders obtain MLCs (municipal lien certificates) to show what bills are due and what liens are placed. Your attorney or title/closing company should have done that for you.