Calif. American Water Speeds up Meter Retrofits

California American Water is accelerating its Sacramento water meter retrofit conversion program to foster conservation in response to the ongoing drought.

The company plans to install meters for its remaining 29,765 flat rate customers, ending decades of unmetered water use in the region. This move comes in response to an executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed last summer, mandating all water utilities take aggressive, immediate action to reduce water consumption for the remainder of 2008 and prepare for potential worsening water conditions in 2009 and beyond.

"Converting flat rate customers to meters encourages residents to conserve because they are charged for the actual amount of water they use," said Andy Soule, general manager for the company's northern California division. "Flat rate customers are charged the same amount per month regardless of their water usage. To me, it's a fairness issue. People should pay for what they use. Metering water usage provides economic incentives to change water use habits."

This was the logic behind AB 2572, a bill Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law in 2004 that required meters to be installed on all residential and commercial properties by 2025. This was partly based on studies that showed metered customers used less water on average than those charged a flat rate.

California American Water, which began retrofitting customers with meters in 2003, has since outfitted more than 20,700 of its Sacramento flat rate properties -- well on track to meet the 2025 goal.

However, company officials decided to accelerate the program because of the continuing drought and the governor's urgent call for utilities to take more immediate action.

California American Water has spent more than $16 million dollars on its meter retrofit program, which it began in 2003 and is slated to spend a total of $58.6 million on the project, which is expected to be completed in 2014, nine years before the legislative deadline.

So far, more than 10,000 customers in the company's Arden and Antelope service areas have had meters installed under the retrofit program The Suburban, Rosemont, Lincoln Oaks and Parkway districts will see an additional 30,000 meters installed over the next four years.

"Flat rate customers who are converted to meters will get a grace period of three billing periods," Soule said. "They will continue to be charged a flat rate but will be able to see what their bill would have been under the metered rate. This will give customers ample time to adjust their usage if necessary before the final conversion takes place."