Sep 032014


In this time of drought, most West Sacramento residents have water meters that are going unused.

It’s like this:

Homes built since 1992 have come with water meters attached. Older homes didn’t. The City of West Sacramento is chipping away at this deficit by installing water meters neighborhood by neighborhood, until some point several years from now when every home has a water meter.

It’s too expensive, officials believe, to finish this retrofit job all at once.

So as it stands (and you can see recent issues of the News-Ledger for more information) about two-thirds of West Sacramento’s homes now have water meters. In theory, these 8,400 residential customers could be billed according to how much water they use. Instead of paying a flat rate, no matter how much they use their taps, they could be billed “volumetrically.”

But even though 8,400 West Sacramento’s homes have meters, meters are only being used to bill about 11 percent of those homes. The rest are still paying a flat rate.  This is because metered billing is still voluntary in this city. Even if you have a meter installed, you will keep paying a flat water rate unless you opt into metered billing. You have to call and ask the city to switch.

If you don’t make that call, you’ll pay the same flat rate for your water service regardless of whether you are a water hero or a water hog.

With metered billing, the city can set a base rate for modest users of water and charge them a little less. It could then charge heavy water users extra, encouraging them to scale back. Billing by meters, quite simply, will result in water conservation. When people have to pay for what they use, they use less.

Why don’t West Sacramento officials work harder to transition everyone with a water meter into the metered billing system?

Because they want to keep things simple. They don’t want some water customers billed on a flat rate because they don’t have meters yet, while others are forced into a metered rate. So the city plan is to wait several years until everyone has a water meter, and then switch everybody at once.

West Sacramento has made a choice between a simple plan and a plan that maximizing water savings. Water saving took second place. Since there’s no guarantee when this drought will come to an end, that’s not a very wise or very progressive local policy.

A better option would be to keep installing meters, and to give every metered home a grace period before it’s switched to metered billing. That would be in keeping with the spirit of State Water Code Section 527.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Steve Marschke

Steve Marschke