September 5, 2004
The Sacramento Bee
Water meter bill in limbo
The governor will decide whether capital residents must use the devices.
By Stuart Leavenworth
When it comes to guzzling water, California's capital is a big Humvee. Walk down the
sidewalk and you see sprinkler water flowing into street gutters. Surveys show Sacramento
uses about twice as much water per capita as others in the arid West.
That could change, albeit slowly, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs legislation requiring
Sacramento and eight other cities to install water meters within 20 years.
The legislation, AB 2572, has passed the Assembly and Senate and is supported by
environmental groups and Southern California water agencies.
Many Republicans endorsed the legislation and only three Democrats voted against it. Two of
those happened to be from Sacramento - Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Deborah
Given that political calculus, many observers expect Schwarzenegger to sign the bill, which
Sacramento, Modesto and seven other cities to install meters by 2025 and start
charging residents for the volume of water they consume.
"In a period of increasing water shortages, it
is very hard to argue that meters should not be
adopted," said Phil Isenberg, a former assemblyman and Sacramento mayor.
Still, a meter mandate poses some hard choices for a GOP governor who, in speaking to the
Republican National Convention last week, touted individual liberties and the idea that
families know how to spend their money better than the government.
"It is a not a slam dunk," said Ron Stork of Friends of the River, a supporter of the legislation.
So far, he said, the governor has given no indication of whether he will sign the bill.
The governor's press office on Friday declined to comment.
If the governor approves the legislation, Sacramento would need to add meters to about
110,000 homes - one of the larger retrofit programs attempted nationwide.
The state mandate comes with no money attached, so the city would need to pay for the
program through rate increases. City utility officials did not return phone calls, but previously
have estimated the costs at $121 million, or more than $1,000 per home.
They also claim they would need $128 million to relocate backyard water mains to front
yards, which would make the meters easier to read and maintain.
Although conservation doesn't come cheap, supporters note that other cities, including
Fresno and Roseville, are installing meters at about half of Sacramento's projected costs.
They also say that, with a 20-year grace period, Sacramento could combine the work with
other upgrades of streets and plumbing, reducing the overall costs.