Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do you know your water bill?

When you turn on a faucet, run a load of laundry or wash the car are you thinking about how much water you are using? Or what it costs? When they get a water bill, most Georgians simply look at the total amount due, write a check and never think twice.

“By educating yourself on the basics of your utility’s rates and rate structure, you can determine how your water bill is calculated, double check to make sure you are being charged the correct amount and make the most cost-effective decisions for reducing your bill through water conservation,” said Brian Kiepper, a biological and agricultural engineer with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Other than the total amount due, the item on your bill you should pay most attention to is your water consumption, he said. If monitored from month to month, you should be able to see a trend in how much water your household uses. Once you get an idea of your average monthly consumption, it is easier to notice if something is wrong with your bill, especially in the case of leaks.

Kiepper also suggests performing home water audits to track how much water you are using. This will make you more aware of what household tasks use the most water and help you find ways to reduce consumption. A simple Internet search for “home water audits” will point you to several free Web sites showing how you can do one.

It is important to make sure you are not being billed for a service you don’t receive. Many households that receive their water from a utility have their wastewater treated by an on-site septic system. In these cases, check your water bill to be sure you aren’t being charged for sewer services that you don’t use.

If your wastewater does go to the local sewer system, it is important to note that since it is difficult to measure how much sewage you put out, water and sewage companies use the amount of water you are consuming to calculate your bill. This happens whether the water goes down a drain or is used to water the plants.

The amount you pay for water and sewer services in Georgia varies based on location. Most utilities charge a base rate. The base rate covers water consumption up to a certain amount of water, typically 2,000 gallons. If you use more than the base amount, then other rates are applied. The rate for your water can increase, decrease or stay the same once you exceed the base rate. The best way to find out the charges and rates is to contact your utility provider directly and ask.

Knowing how much water you use compared to the base rate is important because you could be using more water without having to pay more for it. If you have a leak, the charge alone will not reflect that you are wasting water if the amount of water lost is still under your base rate. By monitoring your consumption amount, you can help conserve water.

It can be hard to compare bills from different utility providers because there are many different variables that can affect them, he said. Because of this, what you pay for water may be nowhere near the state average despite moderate water usage.

Rather than comparing yourself to someone else, Kiepper stresses the importance of becoming familiar with your system and understanding how your family uses water. Then you can make the appropriate changes to your lifestyle to make sure you aren’t paying for water you could live without.

By Andrea Gonzalez
University of Georgia

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