When is it time for your ROC to install water meters?
By ROC-NH staff
Have you ever wondered if water meters on each home in your resident-owned community (ROC) would make sense?
Water meters are an excellent option if your ROC needs to track water consumption for each home. After all, if conserving water is a priority for you, should your water bill be the same as the neighbor who power washes their driveway every month and washes their car every other day?
Even if the ROC has a private water source, like a well, there are costs for electricity and treatments that make or keep the water safe to drink. The co-op pays those costs, and meters can accurately track the water’s use so the co-op can accurately bill households.
Today’s technology offers many advantages over older meters, including leak detection, backflow alerts, tamper alerts, high flow alerts, low flow alerts, water temperature data, turbidity level data, and battery life alerts, to name a few. It would seem to be ideal for a co-op to have this information.
However, when do you know it’s worth the investment for your co-op to undertake a metering project?
This question usually comes up for communities drawing municipal water. A meter placed at the connection to the municipal system allows the flow to be measured and the community is billed for the water used. The cost of that water is paid for evenly by every home in the community unless homes have meters on each service connection. Typically, the variation between water usage at one home and another will be slight and wouldn’t warrant the expense of purchasing and installing meters.
However, there are cases where a metering program is very useful. A community using public sewer is typically billed based on the amount of water it uses. If groundwater or stormwater leaks into the sewer pipes through joints and cracks, as well as cross connections between the drainage and sewer systems, the town may require a separate sewer meter and charge for the extra flow.
Individual homes with water meters are protected, to an extent, from having to pay any costs beyond the amount of wastewater their home generates. This is because their sewer bill is based on their water-meter readings. In that case, the town will often provide the meter and pay for installation and maintenance. When community-wide work is required, the costs of repairing or improving infrastructure are often passed on to the residents through rent increases.
Another advantage to metering each home is the real-time ability to track leakage and save homeowners money by catching those leaks early. Many meters today will trigger an alert when leakage is detected regularly. The resident can be notified and repair the leak before receiving a high water (and sewer, if present) bill.
Plan for upgrades and maintenance
There are two other points co-ops should consider before taking on a metering project.
First, co-ops should understand and budget for the initial expense of the meters, radio telemetry units that transmit the meter-reading data, transceiver hardware to read the meter data, and annual maintenance fees for the software that enables meter-reading and accurate billing. The labor costs of installing meters and meter pits (commonly required for manufactured homes) must also be factored in.
The second point to consider is the need to set aside funds to upgrade and maintain the system. As technology advances, older meter-reading systems become obsolete and the community will need to upgrade it. The software associated with mobile transceivers (often used to collect meter readings) can be discontinued over time and new technology will be needed. Also, today’s meters and radios typically have batteries with finite lives and warranties.
Care should also be taken when disposing of radios, which contain batteries. These units are expensive to dispose of.
Finance with capital improvement plan
A co-op should finance its system through a capital improvement plan that is revised routinely to ensure the cooperative has the funds needed to replace and maintain the system over the long term.
Ultimately, co-ops need to weigh the initial expense and the maintenance and replacement costs of water meters against the advantages of, and problems avoided by, having water meters for each home. A municipality’s approach may not dovetail with the operation of a typical ROC.
When considering whether to deploy water meters in your community, it’s important not only to understand and plan for the costs, but also to understand the co-op’s objectives and to research alternatives.
Ask yourself, does the argument to invest in a water-metering program throughout your community hold water?
ROC-NH™ is a program of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, Inc. and a ROC USA® Certified Technical Assistance Provider. ROC-NH is a registered service mark of ROC USA, LLC.