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Effective communication? Sorry, but City of Manteca utility bills don’t hold water
water bill
A City of Manteca water bill that delineates household use not by gallons but by hundreds of cubic feet.

The drought — without a doubt — is the most pervasive, all-encompassing and serious emergency/disaster Californians are facing.

It impacts everyone. It also impacts virtually everything from whether we can feed ourselves, fighting fires, the survival of habitats, and impacts on temperatures right down to the very livability of where we have built housing and cities.

Yet our government has done an atrocious job when it comes to educating as well as providing people with transparent information.

It starts with your monthly City of Manteca water bill.

Like most cities, it provides information on your  monthly water use in general ranges and in a measurement you likely don’t have the foggiest idea of what it means or represents.

If you doubt that how many gallons of water — something almost everyone can universally visualize and hold containers that one can fill with between one and five gallons — is represented by 100 cubic feet?

The City of Manteca expects you to grasp that as water use on monthly bills is listed by hundred cubic feet (HCF). Making it worse it is billed  in increments of 100.

One HCF happens to represent 748.052 gallons.

While the water bureaucrats measure everything in HCF, people measure their daily use in gallons. Worse yet, when the government — especially the state — communicates the per capita use of water and how much we need to reduce consumption per person — they do so in gallons and not HCF.

It’s the same thing but its far from being transparent or understandable. Sure, you could pull out a calculator, look up various terms of water jargon, then determine what your household use is in gallons each month. You could even get it down to what maters according to the state — per capita use — by dividing that number by the number of people in your household.

It’s a wild guess, but there are likely less than a dozen people — if that — who go through those steps each month when they open their monthly City of Manteca utility bill..

The information the city provides you with couldn’t get any broader — or useless — when it comes to a metric for ”conserving water” which is simply a term for using water wisely.

My use for both April and May was listed as 200 HCF each month. If I used every ounce without going over 200 HCF I used 1,4446 gallons each month or 48.2 gallons a day.

But that isn’t correct, I know for sure I used at least 24.1 gallons per day as that is the first 100 HCF I was billed for. But when it comes to the second 100 HCF I could have consumed anywhere from 749 gallons, which is an additional gallon that triggers for second 100 HJCF tabulation, to 1,446 gallons.

That means my real daily consumption somewhere between 24.2 gallons and 48.2 gallons a day. That means the city isn’t arming me with any information that gives me a clue as to how effective my efforts are to be smart about water use or how I could use it to do even better.

It doesn’t help that the actual charge for my using up to 48.2 gallons of water a day is 6.8 cents a day based on the city’s charge of $2.08 a month for 200 HCF of ball park water comnsumptiomn on top of the base water rate of $17.15 a month.

The base rate covers the operation, maintenance, and replacement of the city’s water system.

Clearly the technology exists to have people take ownership of their water use by supplying them with basic use figures.

It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the PG&E smart system meter system that allows you to use a device to get use in real time. That allows you to zero in on either habits or energy hogs that are consuming electricity wantonly.

The city doesn’t have to go that far to improve its game although it would help people realize that no one is joking that when you turn on your lawn sprinklers water use skyrockets.

All they need to do is provide households with monthly consumption by precise gallons. The city can continue to bill by HCF.

Gallons is something almost all of us can quantify.

There are those that argue the cost of water is too low to effectively encourage conservation.

Perhaps what needs to be done is a rate schedule that allows for a low price per capita use that comes under targeted minimums.

Yes, there are number of variables such as whether you are in an apartment, in a house with little or no lawn or on a 10,000 square foot lot with most of it covered in turf.

Clearly my estimated use — given the city provides information in a wide HCF range — of a maximum of 48.2 gallons a day is below normal

Statewide, the average per capita water use for indoor purposes is 40.2 gallons a day in 2021 based on Department of Water Resources data. That lumps apartments with houses with mansions and such. It also doesn’t include outside water use that in many cities such as Manteca counts for more than half of a household’s water consumption.

The odds are my indoor water use is actually among the 25 percent of California households that already are using less than 42 gallons a day.

That’s because I water my front yard twice a week and the back yard every 7 to 10 days.

Keep in mind the California Legislature in 2018 recommended urban water suppliers such as the City of Manteca obtain a per capita water use of 55 gallons for inside use by 2023, 47 gallons by 2023, and 42 gallons by 2030.

The city could easily take the average household size which is somewhere around 3.2 people and multiply it by recommended per capita water use times the number of days in the month. Then those users with yards it could add 40 percent of the combined per capita use to allow for outdoor watering.

A house that keeps water use under that number still gets water at the rate of 0.68 cents per day. But once they go above that the additional water for up to 25 percent of the baseline consumption adds 25 cents per day for the additional water use. Then after that 50 percent more than  the baseline consumption per day goes to 50 cents for the additional use.

It would keep taking rates for additional water up another 25 cents for a 25 percent increase of the base until you use 100 percent more water than the base that you get charged 0.68 for and $1 for the additional use.

The figures may need to be more liberal. Or the charges even higher as you keep consuming more eater.

In times of drought when water shortage gets acute, you can adjust rates to be borderline draconian to force people to use water more effectively or face monthly water bills that hurt enough to encourage people to take action to adjust their water use.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at