Weber Basin installs 1,700 secondary meters to measure, reduce outdoor water use

Wednesday , March 21, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

It’s spring now, and the meager snowpack in Northern Utah’s mountains is starting to melt. That means it’s time to start thinking about water.

Weber Basin Water Conservancy District was busy through much of the winter installing another round of secondary meters, which means some Weber County households found themselves thinking about their water use a little sooner than usual.

When West Haven resident Stephanie Pennington saw construction crews digging in her neighborhood in January, she thought it meant high-speed cable internet was finally coming to town. Her excitement was quickly curbed when she checked her mail and saw a notice letter from Weber Basin. A meter was going to be installed on her secondary line. 

“We paid $330 last year for our secondary water. So we were, like, why are they doing this?” Pennington said. “What exactly are they going to do in the future? It caught me blindsided.”

She was mostly concerned about cost — would that mean she’d start having to pay more for the lawn and landscaping she only installed last summer? 

“The sod already didn’t take very well,” she said, adding that if she had to cut back on irrigating, “I was worried the neighbors would think our yard looked like crap.”

Pennington can rest easy for now. Weber Basin isn’t planning on charging for the water use measured by secondary meters — at least not yet. 

Meters, however, can be an effective tool in getting households to reduce their water use.

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Weber Basin sends out monthly statements to metered secondary customers showing their water consumption along with a comparison of their estimated need. A 2018 Water Use Data Collection Program Report prepared for the Utah Division of Water Resources found those homes with secondary meters cut their outdoor watering by a third. 

Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said the reduction happens fast. People seem to change their watering habits simply because they know they’re now being watched.

“Exactly. It’s a ‘they know we know’ type of thing,” Flint said. “We are seeing that reduction from meters right after the meter goes in and before we send any price signal to them.”

The district has been installing secondary meters since 2012.

By the time the secondary lines are charged next month, Weber Basin will have installed 7,000 secondary meters total. That’s around 40 percent of its 18,000 total retail connections.

They’re mandatory on new construction, but retrofitting existing homes with meters isn’t cheap.

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Putting in meters this year alone cost Weber Basin $1.65 million. A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation grant paid for $650,000 while the district covered the rest.

While Weber Basin’s rate of meter installation is impressive, it’s a drop in the bucket when considering there are around 110,000 secondary connections in Weber and Davis counties. Secondary water in Northern Utah is supplied by myriad different districts with varying attitudes about metering.

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Pineview Water Systems, for example, only has 20 secondary meters in the ground, compared to around 30,000 total connections.

“The meters are a new product for us and we just started to implement them last year,” said Jeff Humphrey with the water district.

He expects the number to grow. Pineview Water is going to install meters in all new subdivisions going forward. 

“At this point, we will not be putting meters on existing customers,” he said. “This will change in the future but I could not give you a date or time frame.”

Haights Creek Irrigation in Kaysville has a similar policy for new development. It has 250 meters on its roughly 4,000 secondary connections. Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company has meters on around 11 percent of its 14,200 connections. 

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Statewide, the Division of Water Resources is trying to get a better grasp of secondary use in 475 different water systems. They’ve been notoriously bad at in the past, underestimating water use in Weber Basin by 34 percent, according to the 2018 water use report. 

While the rate of progress varies among districts, secondary metering is getting more attention as an important strategy in Utah’s water future. A changing climate means warmer winters with less snow. The Weber-Ogden river basin snowpack is currently at 63 percent of normal, but the region’s definition of “normal” is changing.

“It’s bad. It’s as bad as I’ve seen it in a long time,” Flint said.

Water managers are working on new conservation strategies along with improving secondary water use information. While much of the focus has been on water used outdoors, Weber Basin will be looking indoors this season as well. They’re trying to double the number of people getting rebates for climate-controlled sprinklers and offering rebates for low-flow toilets, too.

The Division of Water Resources’ “Fame or Shame” program will return this spring, encouraging Utahns to report bad watering habits and rewarding them with Home Depot gift cards for water-saving behaviors. 

“Because it was such a dry winter, we anticipate we’ll be hearing a lot from people,” said Faye Rutishauser, Utah’s water conservation coordinator. “No matter what, a wet year or dry year, we conserve. ... We have good water years that fill up reservoirs or we have dry years and it looks pretty bleak. But our water supply is up to us.”

Despite the shock that came with her new secondary meter, Pennington said she supports conservation in the state and doing her part. 

“I am one to make sure we’re doing everything we can for our children’s future,” she said. “I think it’ll be an eye-opener.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/LeiaInTheField or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen. 

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