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Water Billing Process

How is my water bill measured, read and billed?

The City of Brookings provides water to over 3,000 customers. The City reads water meters monthly to determine each customer’s water usage for the current month.

How do water meters measure water usage?

The City’s water meters are mechanical and measure the volume of water as it passes through the meter.

The passing of water rotates the internal mechanism that changes the odometer.  If there is no water movement through the meter body, the odometer will not change.  The odometers capture the amount of water used citywide as every customer has at least one water meter on their property.  The unit of measure used by the City’s water meters is cubic feet.  There are 7.48 gallons in one cubic foot.  The meter dial is like the odometer on a car.  It continually reads the water consumption and is a cumulative total of the water that has run through that meter since it was installed.

How does the City read the meters?

Some of our meters have electronic reading devices that allow the meter reader to drive or walk past your home and pick up the reading remotely.  Some meters are touch read which allow the meter reader to touch the device on the top of the meter and obtain the reading.  Some meters are visually read and the meter reader enters the data on an electronic handheld device.  The electronic read and touch read meters are of the same design as the manual read meters with manual read dials that are always the official read in case a question comes up regarding the accuracy of the meter.  Every meter is read by a meter reader every month.  The meter readings are downloaded into billing software to calculate the amount of water usage.  That information is used to generate the water bills monthly.

How accurate are the meters?

All meters are calibrated and tested in the factory before they are shipped.  The American Water Works Association requires meters to be within 98.5 and 101.5% accuracy to be usable.  This allows for an error rate of 1.5% low or high.  Much like an automobile, the meter slows down and eventually can stop registering completely, but it cannot arbitrarily run faster than it was designed to run.  The mechanical parts are not capable of “speeding up” or registering a significantly higher reading than actual.  A meter registering 10,000 cubic feet of usage when the usage was actually 2,000 cubic feet would be like a vehicle with a maximum speed of 100 mph suddenly being able to run at speeds of 500 mph.  It isn’t mechanically possible.

There is no need to be concerned if your meter readings are somewhat inconsistent.  It is common for your water bill to fluctuate a little from month to month.

What causes high water bills?

The number one cause for a high water bill is a water leak. Leaks can occur anywhere on your plumbing system, irrigation system, kitchen, bathroom fixtures, etc.  Sometimes leaks are visible and sometimes they are not.

You can do a quick check to determine if you may have a leak by doing the following:

                *Make certain there is no water being used inside or outside the dwelling or building

                *Go to the meter, if the meter is registering usage, you have a leak

                *If you have a shut off valve at the house, turn the water off at the shut off value

                *Go to the meter….if the meter is moving, that would indicate the leak is outside.  If the meter has stopped

                   moving, that would indicate the leak is inside.

The most common leak is a toilet leak.  Toilets can run without visible or audible evidence.  A malfunctioning toilet can cause your water to continually run into the bowl and, if undetected, it can cause a high water bill.

To help detect a toilet leak, you can do the following test.

* Remove the tank lid of the toilet.

* Flush your toilet as usual.

* Drop about 4 to 5 food coloring drops in the toilet tank.

* Replace the toilet lid and wait 30 minutes.

* Survey the toilet bowl, if the water is colored, there is a leak.

 Replacing your internal toilet mechanisms annually, can help prevent this type of leak.

Sprinkler systems are another common source of a leak.  The system may have a malfunctioning sprinkler timer that is running your system longer than you planned or for more days than you intended.  Or there is an underground leak in sprinkler system that is not visible above ground and would only affect your usage during the time the sprinkler system is being used.

Monitoring your meter readings daily for a period of time may help you determine if the leak is in your irrigation system.  Keep track of your readings and calculate your usage on days you use the sprinkler system versus those days your do not use the system.  You can also do a meter reading before and after running your sprinkler system to get a clearer picture of your water usage for the sprinkler system alone.

Many leaks occur underground and can leak thousands of gallons without visible evidence.  Some companies or plumbers have underground leak detection devices.

When consumption is higher than normal, the City does a re-read of the meter.  When the rereads is done, a visual check for evidence of leakage as indicated on the meter is also done.

How many gallons can a small leak use during one month?

Leak Size              Monthly Usage

1/16”                        25,000 gallons

1/8”                       100,000 gallons

3/16”                     220,000 gallons

1/4"                       400,000 gallons


It is to your advantage to repair all leaks and drips as soon as detected.

Why is my meter box full of dirt?

It is very common for meter boxes to become filled with dirt, leaves and other yard debris.  There are many factors that contribute to this.  Meter boxes are generally slightly lower than ground level and are also typically at lower spots so all run off makes it into the meter box.  Even when a meter box is cleaned out, it is common to find the meter covered the following month.  All it takes is a good rain or watering of the lawn for dirt to resettle your meter from run-off.  Dirt over the meter does not mean your meter is not being read.

It is the resident’s responsibility to keep the meter box free of garbage cans, boxes, piles of yard waste, parked vehicles or anything else that would cause a meter to be inaccessible.  Please do not install fences, lawn decorations, or plant trees or shrubs which restrict access to the meter.

Who to Call With Questions or High Bill Concerns?

For all billing inquiries, please contact City of Brookings water department at 541-469-1125.