Energy & Environment

Meters Matter

Water limits finally set by a holdout city
by | January 2006

Sacramento's water free-for-all is coming to an end.

The city, one of the last in California that charges a flat rate for residential water consumption, is reluctantly beginning a 20-year plan to install water meters in all homes and charge residents based on use. The shift is due to a state law that requires all cities to impose usage-based water fees.

Sacramento's unusual flat fee for water consumption dates to the 1910s, when residential water meters were prohibited in the city's charter. At that time, the story goes, community leaders did not want to discourage residents from growing trees or other plants to beautify the city.

With state legislators recognizing that flat fees discourage conservation, a mandate was passed more than a decade ago requiring all new residences to have water meters. In 2004, the legislature went further and required every locality to charge usage-based fees for homes with meters by 2010 and to install meters in all homes by 2025.

Sacramento officials fought the water-meter plan because of its hefty price tag. Installing water meters in the 112,000 Sacramento homes without them will cost an estimated $350 million. One reason the plan is so expensive is that many homes in the city have backyard water mains, meaning the city will need to construct new mains in front of homes to install meters. Those costs will be passed on to residents. "Everyone is going to pay more," says Gary Reents, director of Sacramento's Utilities Department. "They're going to pay for the meter program."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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