December 4, 2010

"Tis The Save on Your Sewer Bill

We don't have sewer meters in Poway.
Yet, on every bill we get charged a "sewer commodity charge".
Sometimes the sewer fees and sewer commodity charge make up more than half our bills.

Since we do not have sewer meters, how does the city know how much to charge us?

They guess.

The guess is based entirely on a customer's water use during a 2-month period in the wintertime. Water use during the rest of the year doesn't affect your sewer bills at all. To lower your sewer bill, you need to lower consumption during your special 2-month lowest winter water period.

Note: The City of Poway uses an entirely different method to calculate sewer consumption for apartments and condos. This post only refers to sewer fee calculations and hints for single family homes.

The exact methodology the city uses involves averaging the lowest wintertime water use from the last 3 years and then multiplying that average times 85%. So, if your lowest winter water use in the last 3 yrs was 18 units, 10 units and 15 units, the average would be 14.3 units. Multiply that times 85% = 12.2 units. 12.2 units puts a customer just into Tier 3 of sewer billing, which currently costs $76.25 each billing cycle. If this same customer reduced his/her water consumption by just 1 unit during that time, his/her average would drop him/her to Tier 2 which costs just $50.65 each billing period. That's $153.60/yr less, just for reducing water consumption a little bit during a 2-month period in the wintertime.

Lower sewer fees will go into effect in January, but the pricing between the lower tiers is still pretty steep and makes it worthwhile to reduce water consumption for a limited period to get in, or stay in a lower sewer tier.

How do you know when your special 2-month lowest wintertime use is? For almost everyone, it will be in Dec & Jan or Jan & Feb. I get my water bills in Jan/Mar/May/July?Sept/Nov.
My lowest water use is always in the March bill, which covers the 2-month period in January and February. People who get their bills in Feb/April/June/Aug/Oct/Dec will likely find that Dec/Jan is their special 2-month period when it will pay to reduce water consumption.

To determine the exact day the special period starts, you have to know when the meter reader reads your bill. I called the city and gave them the first 3 digits of my account number. They told me what week the meter reader will come, but if I want to know the exact day, I think I will have to employ some of the same strategies I used to keep an eye on my liquor bottle(s) when I had teenagers around. I will need something bigger than a hair laid across the meter cover. Maybe a stick will work, or a piece of tape across the hole in the cover. Barring that, I may just have to count on the whole week being in the conservation period.

Below are some Poway Blog hints for reducing water consumption during the 2-month period:

1. The Garden. Turn off all irrigation. Don't turn it on unless you really need to. Autumn rains have been really helpful so far, but if late December looks like a long dry spell, I will water my landscaping before my 2-month low-water-use period starts. That way, I will be able to coast as long as possible without irrigating. Keep an eye on potted plants. They may need hand watering.

If you are going to plant new plants or a new lawn area, wait until after your 2-month period is over. Then you will be able to keep them watered in a dry spell.

2. Don't change your pool water. At lot of my water-wise hints are really about timing. If you need to empty and fill the pool, do it before or after your 2-month low winter-water use period.

3. Showers. Take shorter showers or less frequent showers. Shower at the club, school, wherever else you can. Promise your teenager that if they take short, quick showers during this 2-month period, you won't nag them about long showers for the rest of the year. Those long showers might cost a buck or two more here or there, but getting bumped up from tier 2 to tier 3 costs $150 more per yr for the next 3 yrs. in sewer fees.

4. Laundry. Don't change the sheets as often. Let the laundry pile up at the end of the 2-month low winter water period until your meter has been read.

5. Recycle. I'm not a big fan of carrying water out of the bathroom in buckets to use in the yard. Maybe it is because I don't have an enormous amount of room in the bathroom to share with a bunch of buckets and pails. Large buckets of water can also be deadly with small children around. But I will stick an empty trash can under a gutter leak. If it rains a lot, the can will swell and look like it is going to explode, so I transfer some of the water into some empty containers. I'm not going to leave water stagnating for months to attract mosquitos, but for a short period, I will save it for use elsewhere in the yard, especially for potted plants.

6. Kitchen. Throw potato peelings and other kitchen food waste into the trash instead of running the disposal. Yeah, it fills up the landfills sooner, but guess what they do with all the green waste that is collected? They throw it on top of the other trash in the landfill. Kitchen scraps will decompose just as readily as green waste, so if nobody is worried about the green waste, they better not cry about kitchen scraps in the garbage.

7. Vacations. Plan your vacation so you will be out-of-town during this 2-mo period. And be sure to take a shower that last morning in a hotel or at a friend's house.

Try to get relatives to come to visit at another time. Ha! Ha! We actually don't do this ourselves. We seem to have company at this time every year, so I do the best I can to get the sheets and linens washed and ready to put up before the 2-month period. One or two showers by our guest won't throw us off that much.

These are our favorite strategies for keeping our water use low during the sewer calculation period. What strategies do you use?


PowayVotes said...

I looked on the Poway City Website (below) to find the times used for the Sewer Rate Calculation.

It seems to indicate that they use November-April which is a 5 month period. Because the bills are bi-monthly and staggered, I think the City could only use 4 of those months. Because the staggering is different, those months would be different, depending on the account. (as you indicated) Where did you learn that the time used was only 2 months?

Anonymous said...

Use Rainwater harvesting barrels. Free water!

PowayBlog said...

The City uses "the lowest water consumption" during the Nov thru April period as the data for the 3 yr winter water use average. If you look at all of your water bills that cover Nov 2009- April 2010 period, and find the one with the lowest water use on it, that is the one, and only one, that the city uses to figure out your sewer consumption for that year. It is averaged in with the 2 lowest uses from the previous 2 winters and averaged, and then multiplied times 85%. The result is a number the city uses for your sewer consumption until next year.

My March bills have always been my lowest water use. Only the water I use in Jan and February affect my sewer commodity charge.

Lowering water use in the critical 2-month period is a way of "gaming" the system. But let me just say that Poway's pricing system sucks. If the city had switched to a uniform unit rate structure instead of a tiered fee structure, it would not be necessary to do this. Using a little more or a little less water during the winter wouldn't cost someone $150 more or less per year in sewer fees.

Gisela said...

Guess what gets paid out of the sewer fund? According to the article in today's SDUT (12/18), the legal fees for the law suit filed by two home owners against the city for cutting down too many trees on their properties are being paid out of the fund. They are approaching $1 Million and, after a judge ruled that the city was at fault, these local yokels had the gall to appeal and starting up legal bills for the city as well as the two wronged home owners. If there is a council meeting this Tuesday, I plan to go there and ask Mullin and Grosch to breath some sanity into the 3 Stooges.