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The town of Centreville in Maryland has enforced a 25% increase on water usage charges for 2021 and another 25% increase through 2022 due to underestimating the cost to replace century-old water pipes.

Is it appropriate for the town to charge sewerage usage for outside watering such as sprinklers, garden hoses, etc. as well?

Right now as it stands everyone, I know is being charged sewerage usage based on how much water they use even though not all water usage requires sewerage use, since the water does not ever go into the sewer system.

Only Solution I see:
A meter that only monitors sewage waste.

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  • 7
    I suspect you'll find it is appropriate and not exclusive to your location. At least five locations in the state of Florida have the same water rates foundation as you describe. It's not equitable (opinion) but not avoidable.
    – fred_dot_u
    Nov 17, 2021 at 16:17
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    If there aren't sewer meters installed, then it's not clear what else they could do. I know some places do include a standard "return factor" for how much of the water usage is expected to go down the sewer, based on the type of property. For instance, single-family houses with yards might pay sewer based on 50% of water usage (assuming that the other 50% goes toward outside watering), row-houses or apartment buildings at 90%, golf courses at 5%, etc. You might check your bill to see if this is part of the computation. Nov 17, 2021 at 18:30
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    Where I live, the sewer levy is based on winter water usage, based on the assumption that you aren't doing irrigation when it is freezing outside.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 17, 2021 at 23:36
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    There are also discrepancies from consumption of home tap water (and food/drink containing it) that is then voided outside the home, and water-containing food/drink from outside the home that is voided at home. :)
    – nanoman
    Nov 18, 2021 at 10:58
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    @nanoman if you want to get that precise there's also all the water you drink that comes out as vapour in your breath, or by sweat evaporation from your skin.
    – bdsl
    Nov 18, 2021 at 14:52

5 Answers 5

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As there are commonly no meters on sewer outlets, if sewer charges are to be based on usage, they must be based on water usage. This is a very common practice, I have encountered it in several different US states, including NY, NJ, and MD.

There is no way to accurately measure how much of the water use is used outside and does not flow down the sanitary sewer connection. Also, much of the water used may eventually flow down a storm sewer, and so adds to the burden on the sewer system as a whole.

In any case, measuring sewer usage by total water usage is the closest estimate possible, aside from the kind of "return factor" adjustments mentioned in the comment by Nate Eldredge. Use of such a return factor might be better policy, but I can't find any law or case that mandates it.

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    If the water from your sprinklers is going down the storm sewer, you're doing it wrong. (Which, unfortunately, many people do do wrong.) Nov 17, 2021 at 18:40
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    @Nate Eldredge even if the water soaks into the ground as it should, it may well drain out into a storm sewer further downhill, or increase what goes into a storm sewer the next time it rains. Nov 17, 2021 at 18:42
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    @DavidSiegel No and yes. If you are watering properly, it will not drain out. But if it rains shortly after watering, the ground will absorb less. Hence weather reports and not watering if it is going to rain. Nov 18, 2021 at 2:00
  • "There is no way to accurately measure how much of the water use is used outside and does not flow down the sanitary sewer connection." Of course, there is a way. You simply need a water meter for your garden.
    – Roland
    Nov 18, 2021 at 11:49
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    @Roland it makes it much much harder if the same tap can be used for both. Harder means cheating is easier. I'm inclined to agree on car washing even though my only vehicle is a campervan tall enough that the only way to wash the top is with a stepladder, so there isn't a single car wash I can take it to; even the hoses on petrol station jetwashers aren't long enough (and I'm not sure where they drain to anyway). But good luck getting laws like that passed in much of the US or even the UK
    – Chris H
    Nov 18, 2021 at 15:36
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The city won't charge you if you install a separate meter that measures water use for irrigation purposes, aka a 'yard meter'. WSSC Water (company handling water supply for Mongtomery County, MD) has a separate page that explains it:

If you use a lot of water only outside your home - to water the lawn or garden or fill a pool - and that water does not return to our sewerage system, you might find it cost-effective to get a sub-meter. Then the "Sewer Usage" fee on your bill would reflect only household, or inside, water consumption.

Queen Anne County's website (where Centreville is located) likewise mentions it:

A single yard sprinkler uses as much water in one hour as a typical home uses in 24 hours. Unless you have a ‘yard meter’ used strictly for irrigation, you will also be paying a sewer fee for the irrigation water.

So this situation is already well covered in law and you can stop paying sewage charges for irrigation if you add a separate meter.

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    This is true for a lot of locations, and of course the reason you don't see it more is because of the installation cost and minimum charges even on the months you're not watering.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 19, 2021 at 19:23
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As others have noted, the problem is metering, or rather, lack thereof. This can actually come up in two ways:

  • Water usage that does not count as sewer usage

This is the initial question. It affects different users to varying degrees. I have heard of some places billing a little differently if you have a swimming pool, as a single fill of a pool can be as much, or more than, a month of regular water but not sewer usage. The flip side of pools is that in many areas pool maintenance companies, landscapers, etc. can pay a fee to make use of hydrants for such purposes, which particularly for pools is a big benefit as a hydrant can typically fill up a pool much faster than a regular residential water connection.

If everyone gets credit for "some water doesn't go in the sewer" then there really is nothing to do - if everyone gets 10% credit, then everyone's bill has to be dropped by 10% volume but raised 10% per gallon to compensate because the sewage plant still needs to be paid for. So end result is "nothing", unless there is separate metering for large water-not-sewer users.

The one exception I could see, but which should be incorporated into the billing, is if you have municipal water but no sewer connection - i.e., septic tank. That should be easy enough - pay for 100% of the water, but nothing for sewer.

  • Sewer usage that does not come from water usage

When I first encountered this it didn't make any sense! It turns out that there are some places using well water but municipal sewer. In that case, the sewage has to be metered in order for the utility to know how much to bill for sewage.

So really any combination is possible. But metering doesn't come for free. A classic example is lighting in front of houses. Originally this was gas and later electric. But in both cases often not metered, because a meter - and meter reading (in the days before remote reading) is not free. A calculated price is determined based on the type of light and billed accordingly. Sometimes, in the case of electric, the bulbs burn out and years later the next owner of the house gets their first electric bill and asks what the "lighting charge" is for - and finds out it was for a light that doesn't work...and that the previous owner paid for even though it wasn't working. Really.

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  • The waterworks usually shut off water for not paying sewage.
    – Trish
    Nov 19, 2021 at 14:40
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I have seen a place that based the sewer charge on water use in January when you would be doing very little outside watering. I think that's the best solution in most situations.

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The question; is it appropriate, I would have to answer "no". Is it normal, probably "yes". Can it be better addressed? Yes, it can, with a little common sense. My city in UT just took on this issue. Most houses have secondary (non-potable) water available for outside water usage. Some older houses or areas do not have that available to them, and get billed for sewer use based on water usage (like everyone else). What the city did to relieve the burden for these residents was to apply an "average water usage" amount to households without secondary water available, and adjust their sewer charges accordingly. The solution probably isn't perfect, but it seems to have worked to some degree. I DO have secondary water, and my sewer bill did not increase after the adjustments were applied city-wide. Those without secondary available got some relief on their sewer charges, which is completely fair in my opinion.

As a side note: the ONLY way I knew about this was by attending Planning Board and City Council meetings. If you want to see changes, you MUST get involved.

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