All about water meters, from an expert

Sonya Jenssen, who has an MA in water resource management, explains how water meters work, how the Comox Valley get its water...

The installation of water meters in the Comox Valley seems unnecessary in a place with a deep, glacier-fed lake and frequent rainfall.

What is perhaps unknown is that access to surface water for the purpose of human consumption i.e. agriculture, drinking, hydro-electric generation requires a licence.

The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) is the water purveyor for the bulk of Courtenay — their water license allows for withdraws from the Puntledge River below the BC Hydro hydro-electric generating plant.

However, as the system has been set up to withdraw water from the BC Hydro pen stock above the generating station, the CVRD is obliged to monetarily compensate BC Hydro for lost power generation. A conditional water use agreement has been signed that allows the CVRD to withdraw water originally intended for BC Hydro’s use.

Meters aid in leak detection and often the average household’s water consumption goes down. Less water pulled through the distribution network and treatment processes ultimately minimizes the cost of operations.

In Norway, the installation of water meters is anchored in the policy for drinking water.

All non-residential connections are required to be metered while households can chose whether or not to install a meter at their own cost. Municipalities can introduce a clause for the mandatory installation of household water meters.

To correctly calculate fees, water usage is divided into different consumption categories. Only metered water and household use is billed. This includes water provided to the neighbouring municipality of Ski.

Once the amount of water produced is divided by the amount consumed, the municipality has the ability to price customers so that the total operating budget at year end results in a net zero profit.

With the installation of meters, water utilities are able to charge customers based on the user pay principle instead of a flat rate. Metered buildings are charged based on the size of the metre ranging in size from 13 millimeters to 250 millimeters.

For example, a metre 13 millimetres in diameter will result in an annual water bill of approximately $200 while a 250-millimetre meter will result in an annual cost of $3,700.

Private homes can decide whether or not they want to be metered. There are two types of billings:

• Size of actual home in square metres, multiplied by 1.3 cubic meters of stipulated water consumed, multiplied by a cost of $1.25

• Meter installed and water priced based on the size of the meter, same cost as for non-residential buildings.

Of 49,000 household connections in Oslo, only 750 homes are metered. Neighbouring municipalities have recently begun in the implementation of mandatory meters at the expense of homeowners.

All household meters are installed in the basement of the building. Once the meter is installed, all maintenance becomes the responsibility of the City.

Homeowners can return to stipulated usage if they find that metered use is not cost effective. All meters are read by the customer with the exception of meters located in manholes or buildings with a very high water usage. Households are expected to submit their meter reading results once a year.

In the Comox Valley and throughout Norway the installation of meters is a growing trend — with various political reactions from a public supportive or lack thereof.

Nevertheless, what is most important is that there is an adequate, clean, affordable supply of drinking water.

Water consumption calculations for Oslo, Norway:

Water user % of water used from

total water produced

Businesses, schools, hospitals,

etc. (any building not a residence) 17%

Households with an average

of 200 litres per person/day 45%

Garden watering/frost prevention 4%

Street cleaning/water and sewer

main flushing/firefighting 10%

Leaks 21%

Provision of water to

neighbouring municipality Ski 3%

• • •

For a detailed report on drinking water management and systems in the Comox Valley, see www.waterresearch.ca.

Sonya Jenssen, who has an MA in water resource management, previously worked for the Union Bay Improvement District and Wedler Engineering LLP in Courtenay. She is away on assignment as a project co-ordinator for the City of Oslo at the Water and Sewerage Works. The next article on water in Norway will focus on the detection of water leaks the old-fashioned way – at night!

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