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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Water Billing Surprises

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

In keeping with the ridiculousness of recent Dabkowski-household events, I’m going to keep this party going and talk about our most recent water billing cycle. It illustrates why it is important to understand the components of your water bill and the applicable charges.

This was a recent head-scratcher moment for me. Our quarterly water bill arrived in my inbox. I also received the quarterly water bill for our rental property (yes, we’re landlords). I flipped back and forth between the PDFs to confirm that both bills were for the same total amount.

Shark tank investor raising hands and asking "how many dollars?"

Could both properties have possibly used the same amount of water? Nope, not what’s up. One property used 9,000 gallons of water. The other property used 6,000. The bills are identical other than the gallons used and the address.

Property A
Property B

There must be some mistake, I think to myself. I email the Billing Department to ask why the bills are the same. The response just about blew my mind.

Both of these homes have a 1” meter in them. They have a minimum usage of 10 thousand gallons. Since the actual water use was below, the minimum bills kicks in and so both are the same.

Plymouth Twp Water Billing
Jim Halpert from The Office saying "Wait. What?" to Pam.
This was me, exactly.

THERE’S A MINIMUM USAGE?!? I had no idea. I consider myself to be a relatively informed homeowner. At least, I play one on this blog. The fact that I didn’t know there was a minimum usage for water caught me totally off guard. Especially considering there’s no notice on the bill. 🤨

Story Time

The most epic tale of the perfect water billing storm comes to us courtesy of readers, friends and clients, L & E. L & E graciously gave permission for me to share this story, but failed, like all my other anecdotes, to provide hilarious pseudonyms. (One day someone will give me some great names to work with!)

Anyways, L & E had a fairly intense home transition experience as they were navigating a purchase of a new home and sale of a current home. This process is always a dance, but L & E were a little bit of a magnet for snafus. They cleared these hurdles with fortitude and grace along the way – model clients.

The week before their back to back closings, L & E receive their quarterly water bill. It’s high . . . too high. Like double the expected amount high. L calls the water department. They tell her it’s probably a leak in her system. Queue a very stressful 72-hours (for them and me!).

Turns out, L & E experienced a perfect storm. A few months earlier, the locality had substantially increased the water (+67%) and sewer rates (+31%). After that, the locality had installed a brand new fancy – way more accurate – water meter on their house. Then, in an effort to make their (fabulously enormous) yard the greenest on the block before listing it for sale, they upped the number of days they watered the lawn. These three factors lead to a jaw dropping bill that had nothing to do with a leak.

Let’s discuss the typical components of your water bill. Now, each locality does it differently – OF COURSE! I’ll talk about each component in my bill and do some comparison to some of my neighboring localities.


Obviously, let’s talk about the water. Water goes through quite the process to come out your tap in a never ending cycle. Each stop along the way incurs its own set of costs, both immediate and future maintenance.

Water is pulled into water treatment facilities from local sources such as groundwater or rivers. Water treatment facilities physically and chemically treat the water to balance it to potable levels (i.e., safe for human consumption) by removing harmful substances and pathogens. Treated water is distributed through a system of pipes and pumps managed by your local utility for domestic and commercial use. After the point of use, the raw wastewater is collected via a sewer system and piped to a wastewater treatment facility where the raw water is treated to a level seen fit for environmental discharge back into the local sources.

Understanding Your Utility Bills: Water, U.S. Dept of Energy

Your water usage is tracked by the meter on your home as it enters the house. Some municipalities, like Canton, charge both a flat fee and a per 1,000 gallon usage fee. This allows them to recoup their flat costs that do not vary by water usage.

Following an extensive water and sewer rate study in 2004, it was determined that fixed charges were necessary to recover fixed costs that do not vary with the amount of water consumed or sewer usage. This includes the cost for system operation and maintenance, certain customer distribution related expenses, meter reading, billing and collections. The new true cost-of-service rate structure separates usage costs from these fixed costs.

Water Services FAQ, Canton Township


Sewer is something to look at closely. If you have irrigation in your yard, that water is absorbed by your yard or runs off into the storm drains, which is not the same as the sewer services that usually show as charged on your water bill. Recognizing this disparity, some municipalities try to offset in different manners. In my locality, Plymouth Township, we receive a 25% sewer credit during the quarter billed over the summer months.

I know what’s up in MY sewer.

To me, this is laughable when I did a look back at our usage. In the winter quarter, when there is no outdoor usage, our average water use was 8,000-9,000 gallons. In the summer, our usage is around 50,000 gallons. (Watering the greenest lawn on the block is the only area of our life where The Mathematician is a certifiable environmentally unfriendly lunatic. Love you, babe. 😉)

For us, based on our billing cycle, covers July through September, so May and June watering gets zero offset. So we’re getting a sewer credit for 12,500 gallons in irrigation, but The Mathematician is using about 40,000 gallons to water our yard and vegetable garden in July through September. Not to mention, the 35,000 gallons he uses in April through June.

That being said, from what I could tell, most municipalities do not offer ANY type of sewer offset so we’ll consider ourselves lucky.

Irrigation Meters

Now, for my non-Plymouth Townshiptonians, if you have an irrigation system on your property, I urge you to look into whether you can install a separate water meter for your sprinkler system. Yes, some municipalities will allow you to pay a couple hundred dollars to install a separate meter for irrigation. Water running through this meter is NOT charged for sewer fees. Yes! If this is an option for you, you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars over the years you live in your home by making this change.

Now the plot actually thickens here, from what I can tell, anyone in Wayne County is likely to not be able to install a second meter because Wayne County charges a sewer fee for all water that flows out of the system, regardless of whether that water returns through the sewer system. I’m 🤣 over here because that is SO incredibly Wayne County.

I spot checked Livonia and Canton, same story. You can’t have a separate meter. Now if you get into Washtenaw or Oakland, some municipalities do allow separate meters for external residential water use.

Water Treatment

If you look at the line items on my bill, there are actually TWO line items showing as sewer in my water billing. After asking a few questions, the water billing specialist directed me to the ordinance governing the second sewer line “WTUA”. Upon further investigation, it turns out this line item actually funds the water treatment facility that processes the water and sends it back out as potable drinking water. Also, quite important.


Trash was the most straight-forward of the line items. It’s $15.75 per month, less than $4 per pickup. In my opinion, totally worth it to have someone reliably haul away my trash every single week, rain or shine. In fact, this is the best bargain on my bill. I know “water is life” and all, but trash is stinky.

Some localities charge the trash along with property taxes. Others require residents to contract for trash removal directly. Know what services you are entitled to use.

Water Billing Takeaways

Bottom line: Your water utilities bill is probably not particularly transparent on what the fees are going toward. A great resource to begin your research is your locality’s webpage. I have to say, both Canton and Livonia excelled in this regard. They both have an entire page of FAQs that are informative.

If you have questions, reach out to your local billing department. Plymouth Township was incredibly responsive to my questions and pointing me toward the applicable rates and ordinances very quickly. Understanding your billing structure will help you discover discrepancies or potential leaks in your home!

Overall the infrastructure to operate, maintain and process our water is not cheap. Everyone has to pay their share to keep water safe to drink. The Flint water crisis is a perfect illustration of what can happen when the maintenance process fails.

Thanks for joining me this week. I know this was a one of the drier topics I have covered recently, but it is important information for homeowners. As always, reach out if I can help in any way!

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