Nearly all Fresno homes now have metered water

FRESNO, Calif.

The simple idea of measuring the amount of water each home in Fresno uses, and billing residents based on how much they used, was once a radical concept.

But now, more than 99 per cent of the city's homes are metered and the city is saving water.

Fresnans were used to getting all the water they needed and paying a flat rate.

The conflict started about 20 years ago when the federal government ruled all users of federally controlled water had to be metered. Since about 40 per cent of Fresno's water comes from Millerton Lake that meant every house. In 1991 the city started installing water meters on all new construction. But in 1992 voters approved a law forbidding the city from reading the meters.

The fight continued for the next decade, in 2000 then City Council Member Chris Mathys took an anti-water meter stand in his race for mayor.

"This is an example of government control," Mathys said at the time.

But later the state legislature passed a law, specifically requiring water meters in Fresno. City crews started installing water meters on existing homes.

The deadline to get it all done was the end of this year. And the city finished ahead of schedule.

"It is a milestone, and I'm very proud of the people that have been involved in the project because it is a major accomplishment," Patrick Weimiller said.

Meters have been installed in 110 thousand Fresno homes, at a cost of $75 million.

But a dozen years later, Mathys still believes the cost was too high.

"And if you amortize the cost of that it would clearly take the taxpayers of Fresno 30 years to get that money back and by then we'll be putting in new water meters," Mathys said.

The goal of meters was to reduce water consumption, by charging residents for what they use and its working.

"Our actual numbers are showing we're about 17 per cent below where we were with the fixed rate, with some room to grow," Weimiller said.

The goal is about a 25 per cent reduction, in line with water consumption rates in neighboring Clovis, which has metered water usage for decades.

Most homes are now being billed on the metered rates. Some are paying less than the previous flat rate system and some are paying more. But overall the city is taking in less money for water.

The city water department is down, so the overall cost is less. The bond to pay for the water meters is coming out of the new water bills.

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