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Water use down thanks to metering
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Now that Ceres residents have been on water meters for over two calendar years, what has happened to overall water use?

It's dropped, according to city officials, who note that in 2013 use was 152.23 gallons of water per day per Ceres resident. That was down from 157 gallons in 2012 and 160.47 in 2011.

The city installed water meters in all Ceres homes in 2011 and began reading them in July 2011. The state pushed all cities to water meters in an effort to attain a 20 percent decrease in water use for water conservation purposes.

Since metering began, the city has only seen a cumulative drop of 11.55 percent in water consumption. However, Toby Wells, city of Ceres' Deputy City Manager/City Engineer, said that overall water use has dropped 39 percent since 2007. That is due to a number of factors, including the mortgage foreclosure crisis which forced many people to leave homes they could no longer afford and those people were not around to flush toilets, take showers and water the lawn. The well-publicized move to meters also caused Cereans to curtail water use before metered bills were sent out.

"The meters were functional in 2010 with people seeing mock bills in 2010 and we started to see the decrease water with the installation of the meters," said Wells. "We saw that as soon as water rates were approved in early 2009 and we started the water meter project, the water usage on a citywide basis started a fairly steep decline, aided by the downturn in the economy and empty houses, that is starting to flatten out."

The city installed a $4.3 million state-of-the-art Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) metering system which allows the city to read meters by radio transmission rather than traditional drive-by collection of meter data. Each meter transmits data from each home to towers at Costa Fields in Smyrna Park and the city's corporation yard. That information is then downloaded into city computers where bills are generated.

The AMI system also gives all Ceres households the ability to monitor hourly water use through an online account. The online account enables residents to monitor water use and detect leaks if they occur and address them before a larger-than-expected bill arrives.

However, apparently not many residents have signed up for online accounts to track their water use. Of the nearly 12,000 Ceres household connections, only 932 households have registered portal accounts, which is about 8 percent of the Ceres customer base.

"The people who do use it have found it very useful," said Wells. "It's definitely not used as much as it could be."

Data supplied by the city shows that on an average day in 2013, the city pumped and delivered 7.051 million gallons of water, which equated to 7,898.8 acre-feet per year. An acre-foot is the measurement of water that would cover an acre one-foot deep.

By contrast, in 2007 the city was pumping 10.654 million gallons per day, which equaled 11,935 acre-feet.

Average water bills for single-family residences have roughly remained the same in winter months since metering took effect. For example average January water bills went from $26.19 in 2010 to $27.79 in 2011 to $26.86 in 2012 and $26.02 in 2013. However, metered rates have resulted in higher average monthly bills in summer months with greater use. The highest bills were in August with the average bills at $27.34 in 2010, $29.55 in 2011, $37.09 in 2012, and $42.91 in 2013.

Water rates are calculated on the basis of a flat service charge of $20.42 coupled with a volumetric charge based on the quantity of gallons used in a given month. The city raised water rates in July 2013. The city raised the volumetric charge from 72 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.

The average Ceres household uses 15,820 gallons per month. Under the rate adjustment schedule, the average Ceres household will pay $39.93 per month for water in 2014-15, $44.18 in 2015-16, $47.24 in 2016-17 and $50.43 in 2017-18.