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Are Meters The Answer to Conserving Irrigation Water?

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah – Facing a booming population and not enough irrigation water to keep up with demand, officials in Saratoga Springs decided in 2014 it was time to install meters and charge homeowners for each gallon they used on their landscapes.

“No one was really keeping track of how much water they were using,” said the city’s economic development director, David Johnson. “We found people using 50,000 and 100,000 gallons.”

Fast forward a few years, and after installing thousands of meters to track how much water was flowing onto flowers and grass, the city said the project has paid off with significant reductions.

“We found that our water usage was going down even as the population was increasing,” Johnson said.

In 2016, the average usage per residential and business customer decreased by 27 percent. Citywide, the amount of secondary water consumed dropped from nearly 1 billion gallons to fewer than 800 million gallons in just one year.

The city also retired its flat-rate fee for secondary water use, and claims property owners can now save money on the new, metered system if they stick within their monthly allotment. If a homeowner uses more than their allotment, they are charged on a tiered system that maxes out at $3.80 per 1,000 gallons.

Saratoga Springs is frequently asked to provide advice to other cities in Utah and around the country on how to implement changes to conserve secondary water, Johnson said.

The city’s decision to install meters came years before state lawmakers would attempt to tackle the issue.

“We’re going to stop the growth of non-metered water,” said State Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi.

Anderegg sponsored Senate Bill 52, which requires meters on all new connections to pressurized secondary water systems starting on April 1, 2020.

“If we continue to waste what we have under the existing systems our ability to meet the growth demand is simply nonexistent,” he said.

Adding meters and charging for actual usage can cause sticker shock for residents who were accustomed to a flat fee for unlimited irrigation water. Anderegg said metered usage gives Utahns the knowledge they need to change habits.

“This is what you’re using, this is what you’re neighbors are using and just that information alone has curtailed, on average, more than a third of usage,” Anderegg said. “If you’re going to use 10 times the amount, then you are going to pay ten times the amount.”

To get the bill passed, Anderegg abandoned his effort to require metering on existing connections but told KSL he will attempt again in the future.

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