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Understanding your water bill can be confusing, especially because there are a lot of terms involved and your rates may change at various time throughout the year. You can always contact your water provider and ask them to explain your bill, but we've also included some frequently asked questions below.

One of the most common reasons for a high water bill is a leak. To the most common are dripping faucets, running toilets and irrigation leaks. To learn more about how to detect leaks, visit the Household Leaks page.

If you are unable to find any leaks on your own, contact your water provider and ask them to conduct a water audit on your home to determine what the issue might be.
When water consumption drops, so does the water provider's revenue. That same water provider, though, still has to cover the costs of pipes, treatment, maintenance and administration — all the overhead expenses of delivering water to you, even if you are using less of it. Therefore, they will need to raise rates to cover the cost of service.

The price tag on providing 24/7 drinking water, 365 days a year, continues to get bigger, but a gallon of tap water is still one of the most affordable things you can buy.
Water rates are unique to each water system and are carefully designed to meet the water supply and costs of the system. With that in mind, the kinds of rates a system uses can vary from non-metered (flat) rates, to seasonal rates, to tiered rates that may rise or fall depending on how much water is consumed. A diagram of how tiered rates work is below.

In addition, many water providers factor a "base rate" fee into their rate calculations. A base rate fee helps ensure baseline expenses are met, whether or not a customer uses any water. After all, even if no water is used, the water provider still must pay for water supplies, storage, distribution, maintenance, administration, etc. This base rate fee covers the minimum costs of water system maintenance and safeguards the smooth operation of the system, regardless of how much — or how little — water is consumed.

Additionally, utilities almost always carve out different rate structures for commercial and residential users, as well as rates based on geography (especially if a specific locality proves particularly expensive to service). Rates also vary by the size of the “tap” or size of the water pipe, where residential is normally about three quarters (3/4) of an inch in size. Seasonal rate variations are common, but during periods of drought, more radical short-term rate increases and/or conservation incentives may well kick in.

Although tier-based plans vary, most feature pricing that increases in steps (or blocks) of water-usage volumes. Typically, the first tier — the lowest rate — provides a household with ample water for indoor use such as drinking, cooking, toilets and the like. Then, as the water use increases, the price for water goes to the next tier or block. So the family pays more per gallon for watering the lawn and such, and still higher rates at the consumption levels needed to sustain extensive irrigation, fill swimming pools, etc. The household is then able to exercise some control over its water bill based on its water use habits. While often effective, some states have made tiered water rates illegal, and they are not universally used. tiered water rates diagram
Water usage definitions, charges and billing methods are unique to each specific water provider. The water statements, usually provide this information; a phone call or email to your local utility can offer details and clarification.

At the core, most utilities define a "base rate" — the amount you owe even if you never use a single drop. Requesting detailed explanations of the rate structures your utility uses and can offer valuable tools for spending your water dollars wisely.

Also understand any property taxes and surcharges that may be in effect, particularly if your water provider has recently incurred costs to build, maintain, or repair the water system. Capital Recovery Charges, such as tap fees, are implemented so that all new customers share in the costs of the water system and the start-up costs of expanding system capacity in order to serve them.

Check your water provider's website for the explanations and definitions of charges which are commonly found there. If you still don't find what you're looking for, contact your water provider directly to ask for more information.
Specific answers vary from one water provider to another, but the answer to this question is usually a resounding "YES!"
  • Practicing water conservation, both inside and outside the home, can have a huge impact. To learn more about conserving water at home, visit our Water Conservation page.
  • Use common sense water conservation — turn off the tap promptly, for example, when brushing your teeth or shaving; don't linger in the shower or overfill the bathtub.
  • Finally, don't overlook the value of simply contacting your water provider to ask how your water consumption compares with your neighbors and ask for strategies to lower your water bill. Many water utilities will even conduct a water audit upon request.