In September, we had an opportunity to attend a presentation by Bob Rose, LCRA’s chief meteorologist, hosted by Central Texas Water Efficiency Network. According to Rose, although we had a late start to summer, it ended up being one of the hottest on record! Twenty-seven days in August were over 100 degrees, which led to the second hottest start to September on record. This is after a wet start to the year, followed by the current severe drought conditions. We are now moving into warmer- and drier-than-normal fall and winter seasons. These hot, dry conditions not only lead to extended irrigation usage, but increased water usage inside the house as well.
“We’ve had a number of calls lately from customers concerned about the amount on their water bill,” said Joyce Henderson, LMUD’s office supervisor. “We understand their concern so we will help however we can, but when the weather is hot, people just naturally use more water. Even if they aren’t concerned with keeping their lawns green, we all are taking showers more often, plus washing clothes, staying hydrated, etc. It all adds up.”
“Winter averaging starts in November and goes through February,” said Earl Foster, LMUD’s general manager. “If people can make an effort to conserve water, particularly during these months, they can save a lot throughout the rest of the year.” “Winter averaging” – also known as “average winter consumption” among other names – is utilized by many water utilities to assess the average outflow of water from homes to account for capacity needs at the local water recycling plant. The average usage is used to calculate the wastewater charge for that property throughout the fiscal year.
“To be clear, winter averaging does not affect potable water charges,” said Loyd Smith, LMUD’s finance/administration manager. Potable water charges are calculated by the amount of water flowing into a home or place of business through the water meter assigned to each property. Water meters are typically located in the front yard, near the street in a box buried in the lawn. There is a utility side to the meter (side closest to the street) and a customer side (closest to the house). “High water usage is typically the result of changes occurring on the customer’s side of the meter,” Smith continued. These changes can be caused by a variety of issues, such as increased usage, a leak, a running toilet, an unnoticed scheduling change with an automatic irrigation system, among other things.
“When a customer calls us with high consumption concerns, we try to run through a variety of changes that may have occurred over the past billing cycle. If none sound plausible, we can schedule our service technician to come do a meter profile to check for possible leaks,” Henderson said. For consumption above 30,000 gallons from the previous year, if a leak is detected, customers can submit proof of repair from a licensed plumber to apply for a leak adjustment.
“Water tiers also affect the amount that appears on customers’ bills. The more water you use, the higher your volume rate is per 1,000 gallons used,” Smith said. For example, LMUD customers who use 15,000 gallons or less during one billing cycle (two month period) are paying the lowest tier of $2.50 per 1,000 gallons; those who increase their usage beyond 15,000 gallons are paying anywhere from $3.25 to $7.94 per 1,000 gallons as they move up the tiers, dependent on usage.
Water conservation is about more than just saving money. “All of the raw water used for potable water in Lakeway – not just by LMUD customers, but all of the surrounding water utilities – is pulled from Lake Travis. By law, we are not allowed to return treated water to the lake, so what we pull out, is not replenished unless it rains. Even if we can keep up with treating the water as quickly as our customers want to use it, there is only so much water in the lake for us to take,” said Foster.
Water conservation and preservation is a job for each of us. “Be mindful of and follow your irrigation schedule; check for leaks throughout your home and with your irrigation system; turn off the water while brushing teeth and between washing dishes; utilize water saving devices; stop most irrigation in the winter. And please, dispose of all products properly – the drains are not a trash can and know that whatever seeps into the ground can end up in a drinking water supply,” Foster cautioned. “A little effort can make a big difference.”