By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Gearing up for water meters
A mailer and newspaper ad have heralded the start of a year-long public education campaign to prepare Ceres residents for a coming switch-over from a flat rate to a metered water system.

The city plans to begin charging for water on a metered basis starting July 2011. The city is conducting a publicity campaign as well as installing meters on homes where meters don't exist.

The city mailed a flyer to Ceres homes the last week of June as well as published an ad in the Courier last month. The outreach has been educating the public about the facts about metered water as well as telling residents when meters will be installed in their neighborhood.

As of July 1 81 meters were installed. As of last week, 800 to 900 meters. Installation by Measurement Control Services (MCS) is going at a rate of about 500 per week. But there's a long way to go considering that all 10,000 residences will be equipped with one by the end of the year - even for homes that have an existing meters that were never read.

"As far as construction goes, everything seems to be going fine," said Water Superintendent Jeremy Damas. "But as far as the residents go, I've encountered questions. Nobody's been angry but it's more of a matter of not understanding what were doing completely. Once we take the time to explain things they are understanding what's going on."

The flyer busts three myths about metered water, including:

• That meters automatically mean bills will rise. Not necessarily true, said Damas. Some people will see their bills go down, all based on how much water is used.

• That the homeowner will be presented a bill for the meter itself. Again, not true, said Damas. The cost of meters was rolled into rates last year.

• That Ceres is arbitrarily the only city doing this to residents. Damas said the action is being required on all water providers by the state.

The city has contracted with Triton Water Technologies to oversee the switchover and help prepare mock bills showing what bills are projected to be based on a specific household's level of water consumption. Mock bills are targeted to be mailed out starting in January. Damas said that gives residents six months to monitor their use, curb use if necessary and prepare for possible payment increase.

The city is purchasing and installing meters for an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system that allows the city to read meters by radio transmission rather than traditional drive-by collection of meter data. Each meter will transmit data to towers at Costa Fields in Smyrna Park or the city's corporation yard on Hackett Road and then downloaded into city computers. The system allows the city to track citywide water use cycles and and each bill payer will be able to monitor hourly water use through an online account. Residents will be able to learn what their bills will be and immediately able to identify if they have leaks before they get surprised with a larger-than-expected bill.

State lawmakers are forcing all California cities to go to water meters because metering generally results in conservation and a 20 to 25 percent saving. The state calls for a minimum of a two-phase plan by dividing all houses into two categories: Those built before 1992 and those built after. By the end of this year, cities must install water meters on all homes built after 1992. By January 2025, the state requires all cities to have meters installed on homes built prior to 1992. The city of Ceres, however, is installing meters on all homes by next year for two reasons. City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt said it's the most fair and equitable way to treat residents and meters are expected to decrease water use by 20 percent.

City officials expect to spend $4.3 million to switchover to metered water.

On Aug. 23 the Ceres City Council is expecting to look at a rate study to determine what rates to charge next year. The plan is to adopt the rate in September so that rates can be finalized in November or December in time for the mock bills.

To help homeowners save on water and their bills, the city will begin offering a rebate program for the purchase of water saving devices such as low-flush toilets and washing machines.

More information on metering may be obtained by calling the city Water Division at 538-5797.