Are water meters coming to your Sacramento neighborhood?
Sacramento residents, are you wondering where your water meter is? Or dreading the day you have to pay a metered rate?
After the city approved a more aggressive meter installation program in 2015, crews have continued rolling out construction projects on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis without much fanfare.
More than 70 percent of homes in Sacramento now have water meters installed, according to the latest data, and the city is still aiming to finish the rest by 2020.
Projects in south Sacramento and Valley Hi are about to be completed, according to Marc Lee, the senior engineer with the Department of Utilities in charge of the project. Within the next month, projects in the Elmhurst, Oak Park and Colonial Heights neighborhoods will near completion.
Contractors are about to start working in the Golf Course Terrace, Fruitridge Glen Elder and Trade Winds neighborhoods.
Areas with large areas of unmetered homes include East Sacramento, College/Glen, Campus Commons, River Park, Land Park and South Land Park., according to the city map.
City staff scheduled the first round of installation in areas where homes mostly just needed a meter added to their front yard systems, as opposed to the trickier backyard retrofits, Lee said.
"Access can be an issue - the person may not be home, they may have a dog," Lee said. "They may have something they've constructed over where their system is."
Rose Cabral, head of the Colonial Heights Neighborhood Association, said she felt bad when a worker showed up to install her meter because it had to go under her chicken coop.
"He was a big guy and he had to go in there, crouch down and dig stuff out," she said.
She said social network NextDoor has been full of discussion about the project, mostly about parking issues in construction areas and how much bills will go up.
"I think it's causing people to really look at their water consumption use," she said.
The rest of the projects involve a mix of front yard retrofits, backyard retrofits and meter installations on water mains that were moved from the backyard to the street, he said. The schedule of those projects was determined by the complexity of the planning process, so areas that also need pipe replacements will start construction later to allow time for design.
To pay for the project, the City Council voted to increase utility rates in March 2016, which resulted in an increase of $4.57 for the average flat-rate residence on July 1, 2016 and $5.03 on July 1, 2017, bringing the total to $55.33 for the average flat-rate customer.
By the fall 2019, residents who are still paying the flat rate will be charged $66.95.
For the first year after their meters are installed, residents receive a comparative bill showing the flat rate and the rate they would pay under the meter system. The new billing approach relies on a set rate per 1-inch meter plus a charge based on how much water is used. After a year, residents must begin paying the metered rate.
Department spokeswoman Ellen Martin said it can take up to 90 days to begin receiving the comparative bill after a meter is installed, so about 5,000 residences are currently receiving comparative bills and 1,800 additional households will begin receiving those bills soon.
There is no way to opt out, as the state requires urban water providers to meter all customer connections by Jan. 1, 2025.
In February 2015, the City Council voted to accelerate the installation and repair projects in order to save the city an estimated $65.3 million.
There are about 100,000 meters installed throughout the city, many of which were added in the last 13 years as the Department of Utilities moved backyard water mains to the street and completed upgrades to street water mains. Others were installed when homes were built, as was the case in much of Natomas.
About 6,800 meters have been installed so far since May 2017, with about 36,000 left to go, Lee said. The goal is to wrap up the projects by the end of 2020, four years earlier than the state-mandated deadline.
Cabral said she didn't quite remember how much notice she got before the city began construction. One notice included the phone number of a supervisor, who came out to answer her questions when she called.
"He came out. He spoke with us and took us around to see the different things they were doing," she said.
Lee said the city notifies residents in five ways that they're next on the list for a meter.
"We're erring on the side of giving them more notification than they probably want," Lee said.
First, the city sends a letter. Then residents get a door hanger, then door tags - think of the sticky notes left by a UPS delivery person when no one is home to sign for a package. Then a letter should arrive advertising the open houses the city is offering. Finally, residents get a 24-hour notice of work occurring on their property, Lee said.
The Department of Utilities has also created a website, metersmatter.org, where residents can track the progress on installation projects.