On water meters

February 12, 2012

On Water Meters – the way to equity and sustainability



As water becomes an increasingly scarce resource slowly but surely its price will increase and no longer is it seen as a gift from nature hence free. The famous adage God gave us water, it should be free has now a corollary he forgot the pipes it should be priced.  One of the other sayings states that if you cannot measure it you cannot manage it.

The city of Bangalore has been metering its water connections since the mid 1930’s. It now boasts of all legal connections having a meter and these meters being read every month. This has enabled it to evolve a tariff system called the increasing block tariff. The first block of 8000 litres for a domestic connection has a tariff of Rs 6 for every 1000 litres and the next block from 8000 litres to 25000 litres has a tariff of Rs 9 for every 1000 litres. Since every connection is metered it is possible to subsidize the consumers who take less water every month. A pro-poor orientation for water supply pricing made possible because of metering.  The city of Flanders in Belgium gives 15000 litres of water per month per person free. Bangalore is considering making 8000 litres of water per connection per month free. These social measures are all possible due to a good metering system. Meters also ensure the rights of a person vis-à-vis water access. If the state promises a certain quantity of water to its citizens it can be proved via the meter whether the state actually delivered on its promise or not.

In all the city and town water supplies bulk meters are also being provided which along with retail meters will indicate the losses of water in the system and enable remedial measures to curtail losses.

Even in rural areas community based water supply systems now try and adopt metering and pricing of water to enable the community organization to have enough monies to keep the system running everyday.

The use of a meter also enables the recovery of sanitation or sewerage costs. With the polluter pays principle the volume of sewage generated is generally a factor of the volume of water consumed. The cost of sewage collection, transportation and treatment can be recovered by the city utility or local government from the water bill too.

In flats and apartments, individual metering for every flat need to become the norm rather than the exception. This too will ensure that those who consume more water pay more. Good behavior of less consumption can be incentivized and over consumption can have a charge. Wherever apartments have a bore-well the metering of the bore well too will enable calculation of the price of water and this cost can be distributed to individual flats based on their actual consumption if meters exist for every flat.

As much as dual plumbing lines, rainwater harvesting and waste-water treatment are being made mandatory, metering of individual flats should also be made mandatory. Builders should insist on such a feature from their plumbing designers and buyers in turn should demand this facility from the builders.

In India much more R and D is needed to develop robust, simple, accurate and economic meters. As the market deepens it is likely that better water meters will become available. For the moment whenever buying or installing a meter, insisting on a BIS certified meter helps. Regular calibration of meters is also a maintenance issue and should be carried out as per the manufacturer’s specification.

Water meters also need a specific type of configuration of the pipes to be installed correctly for example a certain length of pipe. Access for reading the meters should also be easy else meter reading  will be avoided

Ultimately a 24/7 pressurized system, a good metered water system and a tariff which ensures access as well as economic recovery of water and sewerage costs incurred by the local government will make the system robust and sustainable. This should be the direction where we should head.


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