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Is Your Water Bill Higher Than Usual?

Allen utility customers are in the process of receiving water bills for DFW’s driest September on record. If your bill is high, here are 7 things you need to know.

1. Record-setting month led to more watering

Local meteorologists report September 2019 was the driest ever, with only a trace of rainfall all month. It was also one of the hottest on record, with above-average temperatures on every day but one. By contrast, September 2018 was the wettest September on record, with 12.44 inches of rain falling in Allen.

Many customers adjusted watering patterns to make up for the lack of rainfall. Across the city, customers used 713 million gallons of water in September 2019—up by 250 million gallons from September 2018.

Allen also experienced less rainfall and higher temperatures in August 2019 than in August 2018, leading to an additional 75 million gallons of water used citywide that month.

2. Even small watering adjustments can impact your bill

A single sprinkler head can use up to 9 gallons of water per minute; broken sprinkler heads can gush out hundreds or even thousands of gallons every time you run your irrigation system! As a result, small and sometimes undetected changes to your watering patterns can make a sizeable impact in your monthly bill. Even if you have never touched your irrigation settings, two factors might help explain a sudden increase in water use:

A) If you have SMART irrigation, your water use varies with the weather.

SMART irrigation systems are designed to save money by reducing (or even eliminating) watering in cool and wet weather. Controllers use data from nearby or internal weather stations to determine whether watering is needed and, if so, how long the system should run. As a result, controllers will not turn on if their data indicates rainfall has been adequate or temperatures have been cool enough to reduce evaporation.

This means that, without ever touching your irrigation controllers, properly-configured systems will automatically water up to twice per week during hot or dry weather and may not run at all when it is rainy or cool. (And if your system isn’t configured to follow Allen’s twice-weekly watering schedule, it might be watering even more!) This may be why some see a difference when comparing this month’s bill to others. It’s not that your system suddenly watered more than programmed, but that it usually waters less.

B) Many irrigation systems will reset after a power outage.

If you experience a power outage, check your irrigation system to verify no settings have been changed. If your system is not connected to Wi-Fi (as many SMART controllers are) or has dead battery backup, it may reset to factory settings: adding cycles, changing run times and otherwise interfering with your irrigation preferences. Most standard irrigation controllers will reset to run 7 days per week for 10 minutes per zone, resetting the clock to 12 a.m. whenever power is restored. As a result, your irrigation system may be running without your knowledge while you sleep or are away from home.

Complete our sprinkler math worksheet to help estimate your use and consider hiring a licensed irrigation specialist to inspect for leaks and optimize your watering patterns.

3. Some customers used enough water to enter new rate tiers

To encourage conservation, the City of Allen charges customers more per gallon if their water use surpasses certain thresholds. Customers who use fewer than 15,000 gallons of water pay the lowest rate. A 2019 rate study (which examined the previous five years of watering data) determined the average annual water use for Allen residential customers is 9,320 gallons; based on a 2017 rate study, the average monthly water use for June-September is 13,902 gallons.

Higher rates are charged to residential customers who surpass 15,000 gallons, 25,000 gallons, 50,000 gallons and 75,000 gallons. When calculating your bill, higher rates are only applied to water used within each tier. (For example, a customer whose water use totaled 17,500 gallons would be charged the lowest rate for the first 15,000 gallons and a higher rate for 2,500 additional gallons in the higher tier.)

Due to abnormally hot and dry weather, some customers used enough water to cross into higher rate tiers than they previously experienced.

4. Increased supply costs contribute to higher rates

Like many North Texas cities, Allen purchases drinking water and the transport/treatment of sewage from North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). In 2017, NTMWD informed member cities that a water rate increase of 10% per year for the next five years was needed to develop new water sources, replace aging infrastructure and enhance new technologies to further safeguard public health.

In 2018, budgeting changes resulted in a lower wholesale water rate increase. These savings were passed on to Allen utility customers by lowering the expected 10% annual water rate increase to 7%. As a result, residential customers using an average of 10,000 gallons of water per month saw an increase of $7.70 per month on their water bills beginning in November 2018. A similar rate increase will take effect on November 1, 2019.

5. Meters can be tested, but are rarely inaccurate

After receiving an unexpectedly high water bill, many residents question the accuracy of their meter and request that the City of Allen perform additional testing. The cost of meter testing is $20. If the meter is found to be faulty, residents are reimbursed the $20 fee and bills are adjusted by the percentage the meter was over-reading.More than 99% of tested meters are found to be accurate. When inaccurate, they are more likely to underreport consumption than overreport it. If your meter is underreporting by 3% or more, it will be replaced due to standards set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The City of Allen reads meters monthly and does not estimate readings.

6. Allen works to offset rising rates

Even though wholesale water rates have risen steadily since 2015, the City of Allen used its Water and Sewer Fund balance to cover some of the increase through 2019 to reduce the impact to customers.

In 2017, Allen City Council voted to raise fees on developers to help cover rising infrastructure costs.  They also changed the way water and sewer projects are financed to save customers $15.75 million over the next ten years.

Thanks to these efforts, most Allen residential customers will continue to pay a lower rate than neighbors in every NTMWD member city, including Frisco, Plano, Richardson and McKinney.

7. Allen offers ways to lower your utility bill

The most effective way to lower your bill is to reduce summer water use. Don’t water your lawn more than twice per week; during cooler and more rainy months, you might not need to water at all! Find more tips from City of Allen Water Conservation.

We can help cover the cost of water-conserving SMART irrigation equipment, rain and freeze sensors, low-flow toilets, water-efficient washing machines, pressure-reducing valves and rain barrels through the H2Ome Improvement Rebate Program. View offers and apply.

If you’re over 65, enroll in our 20% discount for residential trash service by visiting Utility Billing on the first floor of Allen City Hall.