Water bills seem to be the talk of the town.
Neighbors are complaining about higher-than-normal water bills in community forums like Nextdoor and Facebook. There have even been news stories on the topic, including one from 9News last week featuring one of our customers.
Many people along the Front Range are asking, “Why is my bill so high?”
It’s a fair question. And since we’re your water department, it’s on us to give you a fair answer. Here’s what we learned:
Water bills were significantly higher this September compared to last September. Why?
Short answer: The weather.
Your water bill includes a chart detailing your water use, month-by-month, for the past year. Look at September 2014; it was an abnormally low water-use month. In fact, September 2014 saw the second-lowest total treated water volume since 1976 for that month. (September 2013, with its historic rain, ranked first.)
But 2015 was different. We had record rainfall in the spring, and customers used a lot less water than normal. In fact, single family residential water use was down 51 percent in June and 36 percent in July from our 2008-2013 baseline averages. See our story, “Water, water everywhere.”
In August, water use remained slightly below average. Then September and October arrived, and were much warmer than normal — September was even the warmest on record. Because of this, single family residential customer water use rose 6 percent and 23 percent from the average for those months.
And if you actually compare this September with September 2014, single family residential water use was 44 percent higher.
Higher water use, higher water bill.
But some customers apparently aren’t buying the weather explanation. On social media, some said they thought their water meters weren’t working. So we checked on that, too.
We read the meters all the time, and we’ll actually stop by your home and examine your meter if you think there’s an issue. Our testing and routine maintenance on our meters shows that less than 1 percent of them fail.
Even if there are issues with the automatic reader on your meter, like a dead battery or faulty wiring, the meter will continue to read consumption, and we can use that to get the correct reading.
In September, 160 customers reported higher-than-normal water bills. Here’s what our investigation turned up:
- We found a water leak in 65 of these homes. Leaks will drive up your bill. Of those, we found 29 toilet leaks and 26 leaks in the irrigation system.
- Another 31 customers were simply running their sprinkler systems too long. We urged them to use this tool to create a zone-by-zone schedule and dial-in their irrigation requirements.
- Many of the homes had old, inefficient fixtures, and we helped customers make simple, water-saving upgrades. You’d be surprised what you save by replacing toilet flappers, showerheads and faucet aerators, not to mention Denver Water’s rebate program for upgrading to qualifying WaterSense-labeled toilets.
In many cases, we discovered multiple factors for higher bills, but all of them were easy fixes to get the customer back on the right track. If you think your bill is too high, you can conduct your own self-audit.
OK, so when will it get better?
Water bills will soon return to normal, but we’re not out of the woods quite yet.
This month, you’ll be receiving your water bills reflecting October use. Because October was warm, many customers didn’t winterize their irrigation systems when they typically would, thus extending the watering season. So for many customers, those October bills will also reflect a higher water use than the year before.
Fortunately, the snow is here and watering season is over, which will create a more stable bill reflecting only indoor water use.
One last thought
While some of the conversations we saw on social media weren’t exactly positive about Denver Water, we’re actually happy to see that customers are looking at their bills and paying close attention to their water use.
After all, understanding your own water use is a great way to help you realize how efficiently you are using our most precious resource — or what you can do better.
Interested in learning more about your own water history? Register through Denver Water Online and view up to two years of your water use.
Just make sure to factor in the weather.