Changing water meters could save SLT cash

By Kathryn Reed

Water meters not being used at South Lake Tahoe fire stations are costing the city about $30,000 a year, according to South Tahoe Public Utility District.

The 4-inch meters were put in when the stations were built; before the city was incorporated. The idea was the fire engines would be filled with water while in the bay at the station. That doesn’t happen. Firefighters tap hydrants for water.

The larger the meter, the higher the price. If the city were to downsize to 1-inch meters, that is where the savings could come from. According to STPUD, this is a relatively easy procedure that any plumber in town should be able to do.

City Manager Nancy Kerry was not aware of the meter issue until Lake Tahoe News called.

“They have never told us there was a potential for saving money on any kind of metering,” Kerry told Lake Tahoe News.

The city and STPUD have had a less than friendly relationship for a couple years. In part it has to do with the city’s thinking it should be operating the water-sewer district. It also has to do with the city’s now paying about $100,000 a year for water, which for most of its existence it never had to do.

In 2015, the city and South Tahoe PUD ended a multi-decade agreement that included the city’s getting water for free and the district’s not having to pay encroachment fees within the city right-of-way.

It was at that time when the district was researching how to go forward that it was discovered the fire stations have larger meters than what are needed based on use. But apparently no one told the city about the potential savings.

It’s even a bigger waste of money at station 2 because no fire trucks are even kept there.

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    1. South Tahoe Public Utility District says - Posted: March 21, 2017

      The District would like to provide information in response to the article in Lake Tahoe News on March 20, 2017, entitled “Changing water meters could save SLT cash.” A letter (below) was sent to Nancy Kerry and all five of the City Council members spelling out in detail all of the City water accounts that had, based upon water consumption figures, the opportunity to save money by downsizing or eliminating meters. The letter is dated September 25, 2015, and was e-mailed to all the recipients, with a hard copy following in the mail. Acknowledgement of opening the e-mailed letter was received during the ensuing two days by the District from Nancy Kerry and four of the council members.

      As stated in the letter, the potential cost savings to the City exceeded the cost of the City having to pay for an allotment of water that they had been receiving as part of an expiring water service contract with the District. The current value of this water at no charge is not the $100,000 as quoted in your article, but rather $34,000-(2,500,000 cubic feet times $1.36/100 cubic feet). Also note, that the corresponding costs to the District, originally waived by the City under the old contract for encroachment permits, would be collected by the City moving to the future. The meter downsizing or removal items detailed in the attached letter are all still available for the City to pursue. We are sending to the City this e-mail along with the letter reconfirming the savings potential.

      Below is the original letter, dated September 25, 2015:

      September 25, 2015

      Nancy Kerry, City Manager
      City of South Lake Tahoe
      1901 Airport Road
      South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

      Dear Nancy:

      As a result of our recent discussions concerning the cost of providing water service to the City, I asked District staff to review the City’s accounts for cost saving measures. The District has performed this type of review for other customers to help them find ways to reduce their cost of water service. We wanted to extend the same offer to you. After looking into this matter, District staff had several ideas that I wanted to bring to your attention. In fact, it turns out that our Customer Service Manager has brought these topics to City staff previously, but for some reason the City did not take advantage of the cost saving measures.

      The first possible cost saving measure involves a number of City accounts that are metered, that the City is paying a base charge, but which the City did not use any water during the last fiscal year. We believe most of these accounts are associated with sites that have been re-vegetated as part of an erosion control project. If the vegetation no longer requires watering, removal of the meter and capping the line would save the City the cost of the base charges for these accounts. If the thirteen accounts listed on the attached sheet (Tab #1) are no longer necessary, the City could realize a savings of $19,848.64 in annual base charges.

      A second category of accounts has been identified where there is a large meter installed (either three or four-inch diameter), but where the actual quantity of water used could be served by a much smaller meter (potentially a one-inch meter). Four of the five meters in this group are located at fire stations. District staff understands that the fire stations were originally designed for fire engines to be filled at the stations, thus requiring a large connection/meter. However, fire department actual practice is to fill the fire trucks from an outside fire hydrant. If this is the fire department’s continued plan, replacing the large meters with a one-inch meter would result in an annual savings in base charges of $24,428.76. A list including five accounts that may be considered are also listed on the attached sheet (Tab #2).

      Taking advantage of these cost savings opportunities would save the City more on an annual basis than the cost of the water which was traded for encroachment permit fees in the MOU which the City and the District recently agreed to discontinue.

      If the City is interested in pursuing any of these adjustments to your accounts, please contact Tim Bledsoe, Customer Service Manager, at 543-6221. He is very familiar with these processes by which other customers have been able to achieve reduced water bills.


      Richard Solbrig
      General Manager/Engineer


      c: Hal Cole, Wendy David, Austin Sass, JoAnn Conner, Tom Davis