Gravity spring-fed systems - what good practices in revenue collection and use of water meters?
In a pilot region in Cameroon, Skat Foundation is working to develop a maintenance plan for rural water supplies. The drinking water is usually distributed by public and private village fountain yard / house connections. There are "flat rates" for all water recipients. For private connections are one-off connection fee plus higher "flat rates" are provided. The payment behaviour is generally poor. Water consumption is hardly controlled (as leaking taps cannot be repaired). Given this situation, it is not surprising that the installation of water meters is being discussed. However, we have little experience with water meters in this context. I would therefore be grateful to you if you could tell us your review of your experience. The following questions seem superficially from our point of view:
• Are water meters the best way to increase revenue collection rates? • What are the costs for a reliable water meter? • How frequently is maintenance for water meters needed? What does it take for a back-up service? • The water quality in the regions under discussion is often unstable (eg in the rainy season in many ways water can also lead the settling tank entrainment of fine sand and silt fractions in drinking water does not prevent). How vulnerable are water meters? Should additional filters are installed?
To my knowledge, much of the experience with meters is urban, I hope colleagues can add regarding rural systems, which I know less.
WSUP's Urban water supply guide presents briefly the main options available, including meters, with average cost per customer and possible tariff systems. WSUP also has a guide on reducing vandalism (two-pager, longer version)
A good intro to tariffs an cost recovery (including how meters can fit in) is Principles of tariff design for water and wastewater from 1991 (the dollars are dated but the rest holds true). A more recent WEDC guide has section 3 on "the metering decision" (albeit from a private sector participation point of view).
I remember WASHCost looking at meters (including in rural areas) as part of 1) better assessing the real cost of water services and 2) improving how we plan systems with life-cycle costing in mind.
A big area of interest at the moment is pre-paid meters, and the very recent WSP study on that topic is very enlightening.
My take on that topic is that meters are just a tool that does not replace good management, good monitoring, good financial planning and speedy repairs. A particular challenge in more remote areas is the cost of going to read the meter (or whether to trust someone doing the readings - how to instil trust), and how to prevent tampering with the meter (in urban areas you can find them locked in central locations). The capital cost if fairly low ($20-$30 for the meter itself, a bit more if you need a secure box and a de-silting tank), but the ongoing costs of reading /checking them and then resolving disputes that always happen is much higher!
There are interesting initiatives with "smart meters" (but then we are talking electricity supply), and mobile apps to send readings quicker to central locations. In terms of sensitivity to silt and so on, it depends on the type you are installing, but I would be more worried about prolonged drops in pressure which can also affect them.
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