Water meters are a critical component of EMW's strategy for cost recovery and ensuring system financial sustainablity. Giving water away free or without regard to level of consumption is usually not a financially sustainable practice, and often ends in system failure due to lack of adequate funding for the recurrent costs of operation, ma...
Water meters are a critical component of EMW's strategy for cost recovery and ensuring system financial sustainablity. Giving water away free or without regard to level of consumption is usually not a financially sustainable practice, and often ends in system failure due to lack of adequate funding for the recurrent costs of operation, maintenance and repair (and eventually system expansion, as the community grows over time).
Metering and consumption-based water tariffs are the only reliable way to help ensure that people practice water demand management. Without this, people in every country that I have ever worked in (i.e., many) would end up leaving the taps open, wasting water, or consuming more than the system was built to produce. This unjustifiably penalizes other water system users who use water conservatively, and who pay fully for what they use.
How they work - Water meters are installed in the house connection line from the distribution pipe to the house. Most common household meters have a small paddle wheel that records the amount of water running through the meter by counting the turns of the paddle. When properly calibrated, good meters accurately record the amount of water passing through the meter. Anyone interested in connecting to the EMW system must upfront the cost of the connecting pipe, meter, and valves required to deliver water to the house. This allows EMW to buy good quality meters, pipe and vales in bulk, thereby minimizing the cost of the house connection for water customers. The average cost for the whole house connection is only about US$10. If people cannot afford that, they probably will not be able to afford (or willing to pay) for the water tariffs.
Meter readers go around to each house and record the consumption since the last reading, and collected the water fees accordingly. There are ways to cheat meters, such as by turning the valve down so low that only a small amount of water trickles through the meter, but not enough to turn the paddle wheel and record the flow. People who are found engaging in this practice by the water managers are summarily disconnected from the system.
In addition to the upfront capital investment cost of system construction, households also pay for regular monthly operation and maintenance (O&M) costs for electricity, small repairs, water treatment chemicals, management, etc.) through an agreed upon water tariff averaging a mere VND 2,000 per cubic meter (m3). That's about US$ 0.12. As the average rural household of five persons uses about 5 m3 per month, their average water bill is about VND 10,000 (about US$0.62).
To put this in perspective that rural people can understand, that is the price of two packs of cigarettes at VND 5,000 each. Although people sometimes complain about the cost, without collecting adequate tariffs to cover O&M costs, the water system would eventually fail, and the EMW investment would be wasted. This average monthly amount is well within the affordability limits (e.g., 4-5% of monthly household income) accepted by major RWSS sectoral donors such as the World Bank and ADB as an affordable expense for the great majority of rural people.
Those who cannot afford a meter can ask their relatives or neighbors for loans to buy into the improved piped water system. If they don't wish to do that, they can continue to use the alternative water sources that they have traditionally used.