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Metered water may be delayed
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Delays in getting water meters installed on all Ceres homes could result in the city pushing off metered rates into the future by another three months.

The city had expected February to see the end of the installation of water meters but work was continuing of last week. The city plans to send out bills in April which show existing bills along with metered rates based on each parcel's use of water. The city planned to begin charging the metered rate by September.

But due to the delays, Vice Mayor Ken Lane has suggested delaying metered rates until Jan. 1 2012 to "give our citzens enough time to adjust and work out some of the kinks." The council will discuss his idea at an upcoming Study Session.

Last week the council approved increasing the contingency fund for the project by $150,000 to cover the last of the installations.

"We think we're nearly to the end of this project," said Mike Brinton, the director of Public Works, at the March 14 City Council meeting.

Deputy Acting City Manager Sheila Cumberland said April bills will show how much water each household has used and allow bill payers to calculate the metered rate on the city's website. However, the flat rate will remain in effect until the switchover.

The city is installing an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system. The city can read meters electronically at City Hall via a radio transmitter at the meter. The city will make the data available to homeowners who will be able to monitor their water use by the hour if they wish. If a homeowner sees that their use is too high they can scale back on outdoor watering and showers.

The process of installing the approximately 12,000 meters in Ceres has been riddled with problems. The city's consultant / project manager, Triton Water Technologies, had to red-facedly explain in January to the council why the original number of meters - 11,636 - was off the mark and new meters had to be purchased.

During installation it became known that more meters needed to be purchased and installed and that in some cases meter installations went deeper in the ground and were more difficult and thus more expensive. Thus the original contract was increased by $216,215 to $760,240.

"We are not certain of all the meters yet," said Brinton last week.

The contract for the installation of the meters belongs to Measurement Control Systems for $544,025 plus a 20 percent contingency.

The grand total of metering all of Ceres is projected to be $4.3 million. The cost is covered through $3.2 million of water bonds the city issued in 2009, and the remainder from a water quality "sinking fund."

The average customer should see their water bills drop under the metering plan, said City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt, who left the city for Lathrop last week. Currently most households pay $28.19 per month for water. Those who use less than the average monthly usage of 16,000 gallons will pay less.

Rates will be based on pipe size coming into the house. Most people will pay a base rate of $19.67 per month plus 69 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.

The state is requiring all California cities to go to water meters under a two-phase plan. Water has increasing become a hot button issue in California and the push for meters stems from the typical end result of 20 percent less consumption.

Mayor Chris Vierra said municipal water systems are "an asset we should cherish" in that they provide clean water but they are expensive to maintain.