NEWCORN: Going on a 'water diet' thanks to metering

July 28, 2013 

When city of Modesto crews jackhammered through our water pipe, apparently due to old maps that inaccurately represent what's under the road, repair crews were required to put us on a water meter. This is something virtually no one in our neighborhood has (yet). Having heard horror stories of how people's water bills skyrocketed when they were taken off flat rate, we were petrified of the impending cost. It was an education in multiple ways.

When you step back to reflect, it's rather absurd that a state that chronically faces water shortages has regions where unlimited water is available at a fixed flat rate. Back East, where I come from, homes have been on water meters for decades. You hustle to fix leaky faucets and toilets. Homes rarely have installed lawn sprinkler systems — if Mother Nature doesn't do it with rain, lawns are often left to brown out.

Here, it's blatantly evident that many people don't worry about paying for water. Sprinklers diligently water the road. Parks, businesses and homes often water in the afternoon, a real waste because much of it evaporates. Clearly they have not yet experienced the impact of a water meter.

Once you have one, you're effectively put on a water diet. Forced to evaluate your water usage, it's stunning how many ways you can cut back, often without making a real lifestyle sacrifice.

For example, our pool cover drastically minimized evaporation. We switched to drip irrigation to hypertarget water delivery. All irrigation was put on timers to occur during the cooler times of day. We regularly check sprinklers so the street isn't being doused. We use an on-off spray nozzle when we wash the cars. And that's just outside.

Inside, we make a game of it. Rather than run the shower until the water gets hot, we first run the nearby washer to collect the water, and then fill a jug at the shower faucet. Every day we save three gallons we can use elsewhere. An older toilet with a large tank now has a plastic bottle in it to limit water consumption. Leaks are swiftly fixed. When we steam vegetables, we let the water cool, then use it to water potted plants, along with leftover ice cubes.

While you may be laughing, news flash: If you're not on a water meter, you will be. In September 2004, Assembly Bill 2572 became law. It requires the installation of water meters on all connections built before 1992, and also requires that all flat rate nonmetered water services be metered and customers be billed based on actual volume of water delivered by 2025. Modesto expects to beat that deadline by several years.

According to the city's website, California Public Utilities Commission studies show that communities with metered water systems use 7 percent to 20 percent less water than nonmetered areas. Their map reveals where meters are currently being installed, and that a good part of Modesto is already billed on metered usage.

Back to our water diet. We winced when the first bill arrived in February, expecting the worst. To our surprise, it was actually lower than our flat rate! As the months progressed, some bills were higher (summer/fall), others lower (winter/ spring).

At the end of the year, I did an analysis on whether we spent more or less on water vs. flat rate. The outcome? We actually saved nearly $100. Of course, if we had continued with our old habits, it would have cost us much more.

The moral of the story? It's not too soon to start practicing good water management habits, because the meters are coming.

Newcorn is a marketing consultant, author and freelance writer. Send comments or questions to columns@modbee.com.

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