Read the meter and reap

If you don’t know how to read the meter, learn. Or have someone else do it for you. A water meter is just like a bathroom scale, car speedometer, or checking account. The information displayed changes bad behavior, validates changes, and reinforces progress. Flawed habits and assumptions are exposed, replaced by facts.

Wanting landscaping well-suited to our coastal climate, we did all new drought-tolerant plantings and drip irrigation in 2012 and early 2013. Yet until we faced rationing early last year, we didn’t actively manage water use. Only the meter reader knew how to read the meter.

Now, almost two years later, I’ve gone to the other extreme. I start each day reading the meter, and read it again after each zone completes. I log the gauge’s numbers into spreadsheets to analyze usage. The business maxim “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is true with water too.

Reading the meter reaps two singular benefits:

  • Before and after data on gallons used by day, zone, or specific activity provides actionable intelligence. Motivated by rationing, armed with meter facts, and guided by consumption baselines, we radically changed landscaping completed just 18 months earlier.
  • Aberrations signal leaks before they balloon into torrential waste, damaged plantings, and inflated bills. If daily or zone figures are higher than they should be, it’s likely a leak. Nothing eludes the meter, whether an irrigation leak, trickling hose, or running toilet.

Looking at the big picture, I find it unfathomable that California, so rife with regulations and repeated droughts, has had such a hands-off attitude towards water. According to State Department of Water Resources records, 255,000 California homes and businesses have no meters and pay less than $50/month regardless of use. Sacramento and 41 other communities without customer meters use 39% more water per capita than the state average. Most groundwater wells have no flow meters or extraction regulations. Some changes have finally begun, but their pace is glacially slow.

6 thoughts on “Read the meter and reap

  1. […] Read and track the meter. The data doesn’t lie. An unequivocal sign of waste is irrigation that takes more than normal, or a day that takes more than anticipated. This scrutiny uncovered 4 old subsurface pinpricks that when fixed saved 15-25% of those zones’ prior use. Unexplained overnight surges each month unmasked programmed water softener recharges that squandered 1/3 our indoor consumption. […]


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