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Water meters to enhance conservation
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City officials up and down California recognize that the concept of water meters may not be a popular one among its customers. After all, who wants to be told that they have to limit water use and be financially accountable for that use? But the other side of the coin is that conservation increases by 20 percent.

While the state is mandating that cities install water meters and begin reading them, Public Works Director Phil Scott said that curbing water use will help the city. Currently the city gets by meeting water demand with its sole source of water - groundwater. But things get very stressed in the Water Department when one or two wells are shut down because water quality standards aren't being met.

In the near future Ceres hopes to participate in a TID plant and deliver system that will pipe water from the Tuolumne River, clean it and send it to area homes in Ceres, Hughson, Modesto and Turlock.

But still, meters will need to be in place.

"People will be more cognizant of their water use and be more dilgent to watch their water consumption," said Public Works Director Phil Scott. "Those who choose to use a lot of water will pay for it."

The state has devised a two-tiered strategy to meter all California homes where municipal water is used. It divides all houses into two categories: those built before 1992 and those built after. By the end of 2010, the city must install water meters on all homes built after 1992. And by January 2025, the state requires all cities to have meters installed on homes built prior to 1992.

"We're going to try to get all meters installed by June of 2010," said Scott.

An estimated 95 percent of all Ceres houses don't have meters.

Many of the newer homes have meters in place and are hooked up but not read. In other cases newer homes have an "idler" in place where the meter would go. In those cases, said Scott, a decision was made by the builder to not install a meter and have it turn while "wasting its life" when no such metering program has existed.

Retrofitting houses with meters will be expensive, said Scott. He estimates that the total cost will be $3.21 million. Last week the City Council opted to seek $250,000 in grant money created by the Proposition 50 Water Use Efficiency Drought Grant program. The funds will be spent on retrofitting only pre-1992 homes. The city plans to pay for the cost of installing other meters by raising water rates.

The plan is to install the meters first, then adopt water meter rates.

"The plan is to read for several months and see what their useage is before we convert them to the new rates," said Scott.

The city has no plans to increase total revenue since the water system cannot be operated for a profit.

Newer technology makes meter reading a quicker process than manual reading. In the old days an employee would have to physically see the meter to take a reading. The city will be installing the "radio-read" variety which is both accurate and saves time in meter reading, said Scott. A truck rolls through the neighborhood while receiving information from each meter's electronic radio transmitter (ERT). The data is stored on a removal hard drive which is then used to transfer the data to the billing system computer.