In many Homeowners Associations, the cost of water is one of the highest line items in the Associations budget. With the cost of water dramatically increasing, many Homeowners Associations are not properly budgeting for these increases and they are going way over budget or cutting their landscape water needs making their landscape material suffer.

For over 20 years the Irvine Ranch Water District has been using a tiered water bill system. A tiered system is based on an amount of water: 100 Cubic Feet or (CCF) that is allocated to the actual water meter. Each water meter has been measured and provided either Acreage or Square feet. Based on the allocation, the water district utilizes Evapotranspiration (Eto) which is a formula that measures the amount of water evaporation in a 24 hour period. The basics of Eto is that the demands of irrigation will fluctuate up and down based on the previous days evaporation rate. For example a Foggy day today will require less water tomorrow than a 100 degree day today will require. If the water user goes over that allocation, they will go into various stages of penalty. Being in a tiered system there are thresholds for each tier and one is penalized for going over a certain tier, which exponentially increases the unit cost per CCF.

Throughout Southern California we are seeing Water Districts either adapt to this tiered system or create their own system. In the Oceanside Area, the City instead of adopting a tiered system has gone to a flat rate system. The basics of this system are that the City of Oceanside increased their water costs by 60% in 2009. Thus consumers were forced to cut their consumption to keep their bill the same or they paid for the increase.

These different methods of water bills have caused a lot of headaches for both Property Management in their budgeting and the Landscape Contractor in the managing of the irrigation system. One thing that managers should be aware of is how a water bill is laid out. For a board to say we need to cut 20% out of our water bill, one needs to look at the actual charges on a water bill:

What are the fixed fees in a water bill?

  • Charge for the actual meter
  • Charge for Sewer
  • Taxes

These fees are charges that have nothing to do with the actual consumption of water. So in reality if you had a water bill that is $ 100.00 per month and 20% of that bill or $ 20.00 come off the top prior to any savings, then you have cut your water consumption ( units used) by 25% to get that bill to a 20% savings. As costs of water goes up more Boards are requesting more savings however your plant material still requires a certain amount of water and if you have a hot summer budgets may be hugely impacted.

Another area that needs to be reviewed on a water bill is the actual area: (square footage or acreage) that is allocated to the particular meter. Many times the area that these meters cover is not properly measured. Thus if your allocation is off with too few of an area one will most likely go into penalty if in a tiered water bill system. So it is a good idea to make sure that your water allocation on the water bill matches what is the actual area in the field. Field verify the measurements.

Lastly, to forecast your budget for the upcoming year when doing budget preparation, we recommend using a minimum 3 years of data. Keep in mind that two years ago we had a very wet winter thus the amount of water used was way less than the previous year. One should also look only at the units used not the actual cost. On your bill look at the units used and the dollar cost per unit. Also keep in mind that water consumption should be budgeted on a bell curve. Do not take the total cost per year and divide by 12 and rely on that dollar amount to be the same each month. The highest demand for water is in the months of late April, May, June, July and August. Inversely once the days get shorter and the weather cooler in the Months of December, January and February a lot of times water can be completely turned off during these months.

Water is a precious resource and as the population increases so too is our demand for more water. One needs to understand these costs and needs in the landscape to provide a balance with savings and actual needs for plant material.