Water utilities are like other utilities; they are legal monopolies. In our free enterprise society, monopolies don’t make sense. But, our government allows certain monopolies for the good of the public.

When you hear that a monopoly is for the good of the public, you probably think that their first responsibility is to the public. However, when you have problems, you probably wondered if they are serving the public or their shareholders.

As I travel this great country, I hear about problems with local water utilities. These complaints relate to the size of the water service, the size of the water meter, the cost of hookups and the fees for standby water service.

Let me start by saying that I am very fortunate. My local water utility is excellent. Furthermore, the water utilities in the region also are excellent. They work very well with the construction community, whether with the engineer or contractor.

For this reason, it distresses me to hear about the problems in other parts of the country. Having lived in an area where they are good, I realize that all water utilities can be the same way.

Water Meters

A water meter is the sacred cow for water utilities. They rely on the water meter to record the amount of water used by the consumer and bill them accordingly. They also assure that the meter is installed properly so that the consumer cannot steal water. These are all noble concerns. We in the industry should be working with the utility to assure that water is not stolen.

In residential buildings, there has been a significant increase in the number of dwelling units having residential sprinkler systems. This phenomenon will only continue, as more and more jurisdictions require residential sprinklers for all dwelling units.

These systems are either a stand-alone system or multipurpose piping systems whereby the sprinklers and plumbing water distribution system are one in the same. Whether a stand-alone or a multipurpose piping system, the water supply to the sprinkler system flows through the water meter. Unlike a plumbing system, a residential sprinkler system can have a high flow rate. You will see flow rates that range from 8 gpm to 52 gpm or more.

A standard water meter used throughout the country has been a 5/8-inch meter. Of course, there is a 3/4-inch water service connected to the meter. The reason that water utilities originally installed 5/8-inch meters was to have accuracy in recording the flow of water to a building.

Water meter reliability was the concern. However, today the water meters are far better products. There really is no reason for continuing the practice of installing 5/8-inch meters. A modern 3/4-inch meter is more accurate than the older versions.

One of the problems with 5/8-inch meters is that they do not permit a high flow rate. Some 5/8-inch meters are listed for a maximum flow rate of 20 gpm. Newer models go as high as 30 gpm.

Adding Sprinklers

If you have a sprinkler system with a higher flow rate, you need a larger meter. A 3/4-inch meter can typically handle the flow for any residential sprinkler system. However, in some cases, a 1-inch meter is preferred to reduce the friction resistance through the meter.

This is where the water utility problem begins. There are water utilities that significantly increase the cost of a hookup when the meter is increased in size from 5/8 inch to 3/4 inch. When I say significant, I have heard of fees that range from $500 to $2,000 more for the larger meter. That is outrageous! Furthermore, there is absolutely no justification for such a fee.

Hearing these fees, one would think that a 3/4-inch meter is that much higher in price for the utility to purchase. However, it is not. For some meters, the price is the same. There are even water meter manufacturers that think it is time to do away with 5/8-inch meters.

To add insult to injury, some utilities charge a stand-by fee to homeowners that have residential sprinkler systems. This is absurd. Most states make such a practice illegal. If your state does not make the practice of stand-by charges for residential sprinklers illegal, it is time for you to take action.

The stupidity of this concept is that a water utility is charging a hefty fee just in case you decide to use water. Imagine having to pay your local gas station a fee every year just in case you use more gasoline for a short period of time. That is what the utility would be asking.

The other reason this practice is wrong is that in the event of a fire in the home, a minimal amount of water from the sprinkler system will control the fire. If there wasn’t a sprinkler system, the fire department would hook up to a fire hydrant and use a much larger quantity of water. Imagine going from 13 gpm for a sprinkler system to a small hose line flowing 150 gpm. Add a few more hose lines and you are quickly over 500 gpm.

The water utility must provide this water for the fire department. So, they can cut back on the water demand for the area if every home is “sprinklered.” In reality, they should charge the homeowners less since they can have smaller mains.

Again, I am lucky, my water utility doesn’t think this way. They understand that residential sprinkler systems are good for the community and do not use more water. When I asked for a larger meter on a recent project, the utility said, “Fine, no additional charge.” This is the way it should be across the country. You need to work with all the contractors, engineers, homebuilders and developers in your area to make sure this takes place.

For all the good utilities out there, thank-you.