Ordinance requires separate water meters for multifamily buildings


City News Service

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance that requires developers to install water meters for each unit in new multifamily and mixed-use homes in San Diego.

The measure is intended to promote water conservation by creating a financial incentive for multifamily residents.

Individual water submeters aren’t now installed, or required, in most multifamily dwellings, such as apartments or condominiums, so residents don’t know exactly how much they are using. By requiring submeters, those who reside in multifamily buildings would be billed for exactly the amount of water they are consuming.

“Without that information, I have no idea to what extent I am helping address the water drought that we have here in this city,” said Councilman Todd Gloria, who lives in a multi-family complex. “That starts to change today.”

The ordinance requires water submeters to be installed in all new multifamily residential buildings with three or more units. Existing multifamily residences with three or more units would also be required to install individual submeters when the entire plumbing system is being replaced.

The law wouldn’t apply to mobile home parks.

According to a report by the Independent Budget Analyst’s Office, multifamily residential units comprise about 44 percent of the total housing in San Diego, and the number is growing. City staff told the council they expect an additional 100,000 multifamily units to be built locally over the next 20 years.

The IBA cited studies that showed a 15 percent to 39 percent water savings in submetered multifamily properties.

Developers, however, expressed concern about the added cost of having to install individual water meters in multi-unit projects, particularly in high-rise buildings.

City staff told the council requiring submeters could add about 2 percent to the cost of a high-rise project.

“When you are talking high rises ... 2 percent can equate to $1 million or more,” Matthew Adams, with the San Diego Building Industry Association, told the council. “So it’s a significant amount of money.”

“Also, when you are dealing with very small margins these days, 2 percent can mean whether or not your project is a go or a no-go,” Adams said, adding he otherwise supports the ordinance.

According to the city, it costs $150-$300 per unit in new construction to install water submeters.

The ordinance requires a second reading by the City Council. If approved, it will take effect on June 1.