Utility Watchdog in San Diego
  • Home
  • Water
  • Tips & Resources - Water
  • Your Water Bill
  • Read Your Meter

Read Your Water Meter!!

city of san diego water meterThe water meter is an effective tool for you to use.  By reading your meter at the beginning and the end of the day you can compare the two totals and can tell how much water you and your family used. Reading your water meter periodically, you can know whether the City of San Diego is reading your meter accurately or is estimating your water bill. It can also help you discover a concealed leak that is being charging to your account. Based upon some complaints we've received, these estimated bills or concealed leaks cost consumers hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of dollars.

Don’t know how to read your meter? No problem. It’s as easy as following four simple steps. Just remember, all you need is L-O-V-E:

L – Locate your meter. Generally, water meters are located in or near the sidewalk or street bordering one side of your house. They should have a concrete, plastic, or (occasionally) metal cover. Sometimes meter boxes are buried under dirt and debris or are obscured by vegetation. The City of San Diego has some additional information on their website about reading your water meter. 

O – Open your meter. Meter box covers have a hole in the middle that allows the covers to be lifted using a tool. The City’s meter readers use a special tool, but we’ve found that a large screwdriver does the trick. Be sure to wear gloves when opening a meter box, as nasty critters like black widow spiders and pillbugs love to make your meter their home.

V – View your meter. There are three things to look for when viewing your meter:

First, make sure the meter is readable and the meter box is clear of debris. If the meter is buried or is so dirty that it obviously hasn’tbeen read for quite some time, carefully clean the meter or meter box yourself.

Second, inspect the meter itself. It should have a large face with a number on it (see picture above). That number is your current read in HCF (Hundred Cubic Feet, the unit of water that the City bills for). To determine your water use, the City subtracts your previous read from your current read. An inaccurate read by the City can lead to a bill that’s much higher than what you should be paying.

A sample reading taken by our advocate is below:

Read the white numbers on the meter and compare this to your last bill. Her last read was 383 so I used 10HCF’s of water. Her bill will reflect (if it's read accurately) the following:
Using the new rate structure for 2014

  • $3.64 for the first 8 HCF’s= $29.12
  • $4.08 for the next 2 HCF’s= $8.16
  • Water Base Fee $37.78 (fixed cost)
  • Total $75.06  (does not include the Sewer Base Fee and Charge)

Third, look for the test hand. Your meter should have a small hand or dial that spins whenever water is being used. To check for concealed leaks that may be costing you big money, turn off all water using appliances in your house (sinks, washing machine, dishwasher, ice maker in your refrigerator, water heater, sprinklers, drip irrigation, etc.) and check to see if the test hand is still spinning. If it is, it may be time to call a plumber to check your property for costly leaks.

E – Ensure the accuracy of your water bill. This step is key. Reading your meter is all well and good, but to keep the water department from drying out your wallet, you need hard evidence. Record your meter reading in a logbook or spreadsheet. The city’s meter readers almost always do their reads 57 to 63 days from the last day of your previous billing period. UCAN recommends that you check your most recent water bill, find the last day of the service period that you were billed for, and then read your meter twice, once 57 days later and once 63 days later. When you get your next bill, compare the number under the “current meter reading” heading with your two reads. An accurate meter read should be somewhere between the number you jotted down at 57 days and the number you recorded at 63 days. If it isn’t, there’s a problem. UCAN is here to help at 619-696-6966.

At your request, the San Diego Water Department can send out an investigator to conduct a Water Conservation Survey which includes all aspects of water usage.


Originally posted November 3rd, 2010
Updated January 2014

About UCAN

UCAN has represented the interests of San Diego County utility customers since 1983. UCAN focuses its efforts on the rates and services of San Diego Gas and Electric Company, telecommunications utilities and the City of San Diego Water Department.