Scorching temperatures that cover much of the country make cool showers tempting. But be careful with the water bill.
Average water and sewer bills, often combined, have risen about 50 percent over the past decade, according to blue field research, an advisory firm, and is expected to continue to rise. Rates vary, but the national average monthly water bill was about $49 last year, up from $32 in 2012. (Figures are based on average monthly household water use in the 50 largest cities USA).
Inflation is one reason for the increase, along with supply chain disruptions and the cost of replacing older pipes and equipment, said Charlie Suse, an analyst at Bluefield. Some cities delayed rate increases during the pandemic and are now catching up. The prolonged drought in the west is not helping. Cities like Phoenix, struggling with tight water supplies, are raising rates to cover costs and encourage conservation.
“Given the toll climate change continues to take on water infrastructure,” Suse said in an email, “we expect dry conditions to continue to affect rates in many cities.”
Even if rates haven’t skyrocketed in your community, chances are they will in the future. Many water districts serve growing populations, leading to higher treatment and distribution costs. And some water districts are having to replace systems that date to the post-World War II era, said Veronica Blette, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. water sense program, which helps consumers and businesses find ways to use less water.
“Rates are going to go up,” Ms Blette said. “Thats the reality”.
Where does that leave consumers?
Reducing the amount of water you use can help. Americans use an average of 82 gallons each day, per person, at home, according to water sense.
Traditional advice often focuses on behavior, like taking shorter showers or turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. (The latter can save eight gallons a day, the EPA says.)
That helps, but homes can use at least 20 percent less water by installing water-saving fixtures and appliances, the EPA says. Bathrooms are a good place to start because they can account for more than half of the water used indoors by families. Consumers can upgrade to items like low-flow toilets and showers. Newer toilets use a little more than a gallon of water per flush, or even less, compared to several gallons for older models.
In general, if your toilet is more than 10 years old, you’ll probably save water (and money) by replacing it, said Mary HJ Farrell, a senior editor for Consumer Reports.
That doesn’t mean you have to replace every fixture or appliance that uses water at once. “Do it when something breaks,” suggested Ms. Farrell. (Some water utilities may offer discounts or rebates if you upgrade.)
Consumers may be wary of low-flow toilets because some older versions didn’t always work well, but newer models are generally fine, Farrell said. (Consumer Reports no longer tests older flushing toilets, she said.)
Kitchens and laundry rooms are other places to look for water savings because high-efficiency dishwashers and washers use much less water than older models. (Another tip: Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.)
Low water landscaping is becoming increasingly popular as a way to conserve water and reduce costs. Outdoor irrigation accounts for more than 30 percent of household water use on average, but can be twice that proportion in arid regions, the EPA says.
Using native plants and grasses, which are in tune with local weather patterns, and “hydrozoning” (grouping plants based on their water needs) can help reduce watering, said Tony Koski, turf extension specialist with the Colorado State University.
Lawns have been stigmatized because of a reputation for requiring a lot of watering and fertilizing, he said, but “if you have kids and dogs, you probably want some grass.”
Ms. Blette suggested thinking of grass as carpet. “Do you really need wall to wall?” she asked. Maybe a smaller “accent rug” will do.
If you’re renovating your yard, Mr. Koski recommends hiring a professional landscaper who knows which plants should be placed together for the most efficient watering possible. “They know what design flaws to avoid,” he said.
If you use an irrigation system, you can install controls that detect when it has rained (so no more watering is needed) or when it is windy (and the water will disperse) and turn off automatically. The devices can cost a few hundred dollars, but you can probably recoup your money with a lower water bill.
A common problem is water loss from leaks; Homeowners may not realize they have one until they receive a higher than normal water bill. Some water districts bill quarterly, so the delay can be costly.
The Alliance for Water Efficiency, a Chicago-based nonprofit, recently looked at the use of a “smart” meter system at four utilities, which quickly notified customers if water flows exceeded certain thresholds over a period of time. of time, suggesting a leak. The study found “statistically significant” reductions in the volume of leaks, saving up to three gallons per meter per day.
If your water department doesn’t have a smart system, you can buy home leaks detection devices at many retailers.
Here are some questions and answers about conserving water and lowering your bill:
How can I find out how much water my home uses?
The Alliance for Water Efficiency offers a water calculator on your website. Fill out a few questions about your appliances and water usage habits, and a report is created that compares your water usage to that of an average household and a “water wise” household, along with suggestions for using less water.
What if I can’t pay my water bill?
Like gas and electric utilities, water utilities often offer payment assistance or flexible payment options to help low-income customers pay their bills and avoid loss of service. Call your water system to see if you qualify.
In accordance with a report of the US Water Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable water policies. A study of alternative pricing strategies in two large Midwestern cities by the alliance and Stantec, a planning and engineering firm, found that basing water rates, at least in part, on factors such as the size of a building or the number of rooms, rather than just the amount of water used, can help ease the burden of higher rates on low-income households.
How can I find fixtures and appliances that save water?
Look up the EPA water sense label, which means that the items have exceeded standards for efficiency and performance. Consumer Reports (available by subscription) tests a variety of appliances and awards green products a green leaf, indicating an “eco-choice” product.