More than a quarter of a million water customers pay a flat rate while the battle against drought continues.
Following especially dire drought conditions because of the lack of snowmelt, the state of California currently has water restriction mandates in place. With such a focus on reducing water use, it would likely be surprising to many people to learn that there remain communities in the state without water meters — allowing businesses and residents to use as much water as they’d like without also having to pay a higher fee. According to a recent article on Reuters.com, that is the case for more than a quarter of a million California households and businesses.
“We’ve cut back quite a bit,” says Kim Matisevich, a resident of the affluent community of Arden Park just outside of Sacramento, referring to the back portion of her lot, which has been allowed to dry out unlike the front lawn. “But the front yard is a representation of who lives in the house.”
Despite cutting back on typical water usage, Matisevich says in the article that she doesn’t have a sense of exactly how much water her household uses — or what it costs — since in unmetered Arden Park it is a flat rate included in the sewer bill.
In 2004, stemming from a concern that conservation efforts would be slowed by continued unmetered water use, the California Legislature passed a law requiring all utility companies and water districts to install meters by 2025. But in the meantime, the state’s water supplies continue to be ravaged by drought with some communities still lacking the meters that could better track water usage and allow customers to be billed accordingly.
“Half the city is still on a flat rate, and we have no way of knowing how much water they’re using,” says Bill Busath, interim director of the Department of Utilities for Sacramento, where 61,000 water customers are unmetered.
According to the Reuters.com article, by the end of 2016, Sacramento will have spent $145 million installing meters, but nearly 40 percent of water customers will still be unmetered. Sacramento began retrofitting older homes with water meters after a state law in 2004 required it.
Other communities that have finished installing meters have seen water conservation increase. At the end of 2014, marking a year after Fresno finished installing meters, the city saw water consumption drop by 27 percent from 2008 levels. It was the following year — 2009 — that meter installation began.
In Arden Park, Matisevich says she and her husband try to practice conservation, watering liberally only in their front yard and the portion of the back yard used most often for activities like barbecues. But she admits that water meters in Arden Park would likely make them think about conserving even more.
“The front yard might have to go and become Astro Turf,” she says.