Meters to help plan future secondary water fees in N. Utah

Jul 25 2013 - 7:02am

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LAYTON -- Unregulated use of the secondary water supply is nearing an end.

The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District recently completed the first phase of a pilot program to monitor residential use of secondary water by installing meters on 1,300 homes in Weber and Davis counties.

"We need to see how well the meters do with an untreated water source," said Tage Flint, district general manager. "The water meters are still a fairly new technology."

The initiative is part of a broader effort by the Utah Department of Natural Resources to ensure the state has enough water for its growing population.

Weber Basin Water Conservancy estimates that each household uses 220,000 gallons of secondary water per year, typically between the middle of April and the middle of October. Nearly all of that water is used for lawns and gardens.

"The one problem with secondary water systems is that, because they have never been metered at the customer level, they tend to, in those areas, use more water," said Eric Klotz, Water Conservation and Education section chief with the DNR. "There's no incentive to save."

Water conservation has happened inside the home, as plumbing fixtures have been replaced with newer, more efficient models.

"The reason we are pushing so hard with our conservation program on the outside component is because there is a chance that, if we did nothing, people would go on with their wasteful ways," Klotz said.

The conservancy plans to move to a usage-based rate schedule but needs to study the data it is collecting over the next two years from the 1,300 recently installed meters.

"With that many meters in, we will have a good database to make the big decisions going forward," Flint said.

Still, he thinks the meters will help persuade residents to be more mindful of their water use.

"These are very rough numbers, but we think that at least 20 to 30 percent of the secondary water could be reduced. We'll know more in a couple years."

The conservancy plans to install secondary water-supply meters on all homes in Weber and Davis counties in the next few years.

The conservancy has been testing several models of secondary water meters for the past five years and has seen consistent and reliable measuring with the Elster Smart Meter.

South Weber resident Jefre Hicks welcomes the coming change in how water is metered. Hicks limits his use of water, in part by xeriscaping his yard, and feels a usage-based fee structure would be more fair than the current flat fee added to residents' property tax.

"If there is no incentive to not use the water, why conserve?"

Scott Paxman, assistant general manager at the conservancy, expects some resistance as the new usage-based fee structure is implemented.

"As soon as we bring up the accountability and how much they are using, they totally understand," Paxman said of residents. "It is not a hard sell."

Population forecasts have Utah growing from the 2.8 million residents today to 6 million by 2060.

"Things are changing," Klotz said. "As population changes, that water will have more and more demands on it."

Water managers hope to reduce per-capita consumption to 220 gallons per day by 2025. Since 2000, residents have reduced their consumption from 295 gallons to 240 gallons per day.

"If we do that, from the statewide perspective, we reduce the amount of water that is needed to be developed by some 500,000 acre-feet per year," Klotz said.

Conservation is an important piece in meeting the future demands for water in the state. The DNR projects that 60 percent of the additional future demand can be met through conservation.

The remaining 40 percent will come from agriculture conversions as subdivisions replace farms and from developing new water sources, such as the Bear River.

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