Saving Money, Drop By Drop

Where Does the Water Come From?

Before we begin talking about how to save on your water bill when you rent, we should talk about where our water originates. The water source of the majority of US households is from a public utility provider. Precipitated water gathers either in a groundwater source, such as a well, or from a surface-water source, such as a river, lake, or reservoir. For those households that do not have access to a public supplier, typically in rural areas, almost 98% of their self-supplied water comes from wells. A cistern is another groundwater alternative for self-supplied water, which acts as a mini-reservoir, collecting rainwater. (By mini we mean upwards of thousands of cubic feet). Here, in Washington, DC and Montgomery County, MD, our water service providers are DC Water (formerly DC WASA) and the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission (WSSC).
In Washington, DC, household water is sourced from dammed Potomac River water at the Dalecarlia, Georgetown, and McMillan Reservoirs, to comprise the Washington Aqueduct system. The Washington Aqueduct serves all of Washington, DC, Arlington County, and parts of Fairfax County.
In Montgomery County, MD, reservoirs are used by our local water suppliers, which intakes its water, via canals and dams, from the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers. The canal above Swain’s Lock, diverts water from the Potomac River to the Potomac Treatment Facility, and water from the Patuxent River is diverted to the Patuxent Treatment facility from one two reservoirs: the Tridelphia Reservoir, located on Tridelphia Lake, and the Rocky Gorge Reservoir (sometimes called the T. Howard Duckett Reservoir), which uses the T. Howard Duckett dam on the Patuxent River.
How Is It Distributed?
Once DC Water and WSSC have collected the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers’ water into their respective reservoirs, it is filtered and treated in treatment centers, and then piped to specific above-ground water storage tanks. Water from these tanks is further piped via water mains, which run under streets and sidewalks, to households, businesses, and fire hydrants. The water mains are either public or commercial (which go to you, the customer), and have their own meters. Customers’ homes or business tap into the commercial water mains and piping.
As a property management company in Washington, DC and Montgomery County, we know about households’ water systems. For households, there are two subsystems to your home water system. One brings new water in, the other takes wastewater out. Your home uses the commercial water mains for water-in piping and commercial sewer mains, for wastewater-out piping. The point at which water leaves the water main and the last point before water enters the sewer main is the responsibility of the Customer, not the public service provider. Meaning, repairs and maintenance that arise in these areas, the Customer is responsible for upkeep and costs.
The water system in your home has two types of shutoff valves: main and supply. The main valve turns of the supply of water to the entire house; the supply turns off water to individual appliances. Note, there are two main valves—street-side and house-side. As you probably guesses, one turns off water going into the meter, the other turns off water going out (and to the house). Typically, your water meter and its main valves are found in your basement, on a home’s exterior wall, or in a covered box outside, either above ground or level with the ground. It is critical you shut off the main water valve in a plumbing emergency. Below is an image of a toilet’s individual shut-off valve, from How Stuff Works— not to be confused with your main water valves. (Your main water valves are not found under your toilet–that would be weird).

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Water immediately coming from your meter, into your home, is ready for your cold water needs. Hot water, however, will flow through your water  heater, which has its own  meter for setting the temperature. You may adjust this, as well. Finally, the cold and hot water flows in separate pipes to all appliances and fixtures, as necessary. Again, each hot and cold water pipe on the fixture, if applicable, will have its own supply valve, which you can turn on and off.  Are you having trouble finding it? Look for an access panel (that framed piece of wall–likely painted-over–that you walk by everyday, but never before noticed).

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How Is It Priced?
Water uses gravity, pressure, and piping to circulate throughout your home. Water coming into your home is using pressure, and passes through the water meter to calculate your water usage.
In Washington, DC, where water is provided by public provider DC Water, your monthly water bill includes the water usage charges from DC Water and the local District government surcharges on the same bill. DC Water bills customers for water and sewer usage, and charges customer’s flat-fees for customer metering and the Clean Rivers Impervious Area charge (CRIAC). The Clean Rivers  Project is a government-mandated $2.6 billion ongoing capital- and support-improvement project to reduce sewer overflows into the DC’s waterways – the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and Rock Creek. It is designed to capture and clean heavy rainfall water before it reaches the rivers. At present, DC Water’s water and sewer rates for single-family residences are $4.83 per 1000 gallons and $5.89 per 1000 gallons, respectively. The CRIAC is $11.85.
In Montgomery County, MD, the public water provider WSSC includes water usage charges and flat-fees for sewer, account and maintenance, and the state of Maryland’s (Chesapeake) Bay Restoration Fee in your quarterly bill. The Bay Restoration Fund generates revenue to bankroll improvements to wastewater treatment plants, throughout Maryland. At present, WSSC’s water usage rates for single-family residences are $ 15.56 at the 1000-gallon tier and $100 per quarter for sewer.
How Can I Save The Most Green—On The Planet and In My Wallet?
It takes a considerable amount of energy to deliver and treat the water you use every day. Heating water for cooking, showering, cleaning, and laundry  also requires a lot of energy. Homes with electric water heaters, for example, can spend one-quarter of their electric bill just to heat water.
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This is where being a savvy renter or landlord comes into play. We, as property managers, are often only act as consultants when it comes to suggesting upgrades to our Clients’ rental properties. When we see outdated appliances, try as we might, some landlords don’t want to budge and make the investment. Since they are often not the ones paying the bill—the renter is—they don’t see the pain in their wallet. However, they will see the pain if would-be renters turn down an otherwise wonderful property for a home retrofitted with energy-efficiency in mind.
In the event your landlord doesn’t want to upgrade your appliances, you can take measures into your own hands. You are able to purchase new appliances to replace the existing inefficient appliances, but return the old ones to the rightful place, upon your moving out of the unit. This way, you can save money on your bills, and you can take the appliances with you, too! Below are some of the best water-efficient appliances, all WaterSense labeled options. No, we are in no way paid to endorse WaterSense labeled products—we just know they work.

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WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent, third–party testing and certification, and meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. If you want to learn more, you can find detailed information at the EPA product index.
How Much Do These Appliances Typically Cost?
Most toilets now comply with the standard set in the 1994 Energy Policy Act – 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm) or 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Replacing toilets that do not meet this standard, could save you between 5-10 gallons per day per toilet. Consider asking your landlord to make some upgrades. A typical white toilet with lid costs between $90-120; a WaterSense toilet costs between $120-150—assuming you don’t need the deluxe version. Take a look at some models at Home Depot.
We all know to turn the water off when brushing teeth, or that it is better to fill a large tub with water to hand wash dishes, rather than let the water flow freely. Replacing a faucet with a water-efficient alternative is great, but faucets can also be retrofitted to save you money when the water is running—the trick is an aerator. Free-flowing faucets (without aerators) can consume up to 2.2 gpm. An aerator with a 1.0 or a .5 gpm works well in bathroom sinks. Outfit kitchen sinks with 1.5 gpm aerators, as washing dishes and filling huge pasta pots need a little better water flow. Take a look at some models at FaucetDirect.
Showering is one of the primary ways we use water in the home. The average family uses almost 40 gallons per day for showing. That’s nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water used in the United States annually just for showering, or enough to supply the water needs of New York and New Jersey for a year, according to the EPA. Let’s assume you are a renter, and you want to save on your water utility costs, because you may not have a family, but you do have 5 people in your group-house. A simple fix is for you to change your shower head. As property managers, we advise all our clients (the home owner) the install WaterSense accessories in their properties. Some may not see the sense in it, in which case, we advise renters to switch out showerheads.  Standard showerheads use 2.5 gpm; however WaterSense showerheads must show they use no more than 2.0 gpm. Again, see some models here at FaucetDirect.

Look Out for Leaks!

Last but not least, be vigilant about leak detection. Most tenants waste no time informing their property management company of a leak, especially when they are responsible for the water utility bill. In the cases where it is the landlord that is responsible, it is imperative the landlord and the property manager set the tone for water-conservation. If appliances cannot be retrofitted by either party with water-efficient appliances, then reducing water usage on one’s own and  resolving leaks as they arise, becomes the only point when measures can be taken.