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Manteca needs user friendly water bills
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Reading your City of Manteca water bill is kind of like reading Latin.

Unless you know the language and math of water techies you have no idea what amount of water you are consuming in terms of every day measurements such as gallons

That’s because the utility bill is anything but user friendly. True, they give you nice bar graphs of your previous 11 months and current usage of water. Unfortunately, it is in hundred cubic feet. That’s because water meters calibrate use in cubic feet.

In the Age of Apps that break complex  tasks down to a tap of a screen as well as being in a serious drought you’d think communicating with water customers in an easy to understand and comparable numbers would be a high priority. But perhaps the fact engineers run the water system and people well versed in accounting concepts are running the billing show they fail to see how powerful information provided in the “language” their customers understand is much more effective.

A cubic foot of water is equal to 7.48 gallons. So how hard would it be to convert the water bills into gallons? I can visualize a gallon of water. I can’t visualize a cubic foot of water.

Monthly usage on your bill is listed as HCF which is the abbreviation for hundred cubic feet.

Why not simply have the program churning out water bills multiple the cubic feet data the meter reader collects by 7.48 and provide you with the actual gallons you use?

My March bill, for example, shows I used 300 cubic feet. That’s 2,244 gallons of water. There were 30 billing days so I used 74.8 gallons of water a day. Manteca’s per capita water consumption is 116 gallons a day. The actual per capita consumption in my household was 37.4 gallons a day as my granddaughter’s boyfriend is living with me.

My worst month in the past year was June when I used 1,100 cubic feet of water — some 300 cubic feet above the next highest months of July and August. That translated into 137.1 gallons per capita for the household. The second highest month was a more reasonable 99.7 gallons per capita although it can still be lower.

It also would be a big help if the bar graphs bothered to give a real comparison of the current month with the same month last year. Weather conditions are different  typically in April versus May while May to May comparisons give you a more accurate picture to look at in terms of use trends.

Even better would be gradually switching to new water meters that could give you real time readings on water use on a computer program or an app on a smartphone or a tablet. This is not Buck Rogers technology. It is available now.

Imagine the power of being able to measure how much water your shower actually takes to drive home the point that you might be wasting water and therefore might want to get more focused when bathing.

It is something that the council appointed water conservation committee might want to explore. It won’t happen overnight. But if new homes come equipped with such technology and the city retrofits perhaps a couple hundred a year or when homes exchange hands, it would be one of the most effective ways to educate people about water use. It also would actively engage them in the concept of thinking about water conservation on a daily basis.

By having water bills reflect gallons, you also get an idea of what the cost is. Right now, with usage reported in hundred cubic feet I spent $3.09 last month for water consumption on top of the $17.15 base rate. That translates into $1.03 per 100 cubic feet. Translated into gallons I’m paying 0.00137 cents per gallon. That means the typical bottle of water you buy at the store that has essentially a pint of water is exorbitantly costly. With eight pints to a gallon and a bottle of water cost $1 each you are paying $8 a gallon or water from companies owned by the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola compared to 0.00137 cent per gallon for what comes from your tap.

Councilman Vince Hernandez keeps saying that education is key when it comes to water conservation. It is a sentiment echoed by his fellow council members.

As an educator, Hernandez knows that a solid education is built on knowledge.

And what better way to educate people on water and its value by providing them with monthly bills and real time data that is dispersed in terms that are relevant to their day-to-day lives.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.