From the Forum – Understanding DC water bills

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DC water bill in ccf?

“I am a first time homeowner in Petworth, so it is also the first time that I have been responsible for water bills. I have noticed that DC Water bills by the ccf, or hundred cubic feet, where one hundred cubic feet = 748 gallons.

3 out of the last four months my water use has been billed at 3 ccfs, although the actual use of water has varied between 1600 and 2200 gallons. Ccfs appear to be non-divisible.

It seems to me that billing by the ccf is a not-particularly-consumer-friendly way to bill for water. Essentially, anyone using between 1500 and 2244 gallons per month would be billed the same. This is the equivalent to phone companies selling airtime by-the-hour, rather than by the minute. Considering that water use is tracked to the gallon by automated water meters, what is the justification for using such rough units of billing (the ccf)?

Additionally, from a water conservation standpoint, if the assumption is that consumers will be motivated to conserve water by having their water bill reduced, in the current billing system the water bill will only be reduced if you pass distinct thresholds (like going below 1496 gallons, or 2 ccf) – there would be no “reward” for water conservation if your use doesn’t cross a ccf threshold.

Anyone know the history of this system?”

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19 Comment

  • houseintherear


  • justinbc

    That might explain why for 3 consecutive months our water bill was the exact same amount. Nobody at the water company could explain it.

    • Our water bill has been the exact same for the 20 months we’ve been in our house, except for one increase that I assume was a rate raise.

    • I’ve noticed this also but since I am mildly OCD I figured that it is possible that I used the same amount of water each month.

  • Not correct. You don’t pay for the the water until you have used the entire ccf. The meter keeps a running taley of water used. You are charged for the ccfs until they are fully consumed.

    • Let me try that with grammer:

      Water is metered cumulatively. You are billed for the difference, in whole ccfs. Partially ccfs will be included in the next bill.

      • ah

        Right – so you’re not getting ripped off by DC Water through billing in CCF.

        That said, the point stands that billing in gallons would give people a better sense of how much water they are using. Of course, people who care about that can go get daily data on the DC Water website, in their choice of measures (CCF, gallons, and maybe some other unit). I’ve found it remarkable how low the baseline use is, with spikes for watering the lawn, washing the car, and even doing laundry.

      • I didn’t know that! Cool. It explains some things.

  • Considering a gallon of water costs somewhere on the order of $0.01/gallon, a variance of 100 gallons = $1.00. Properly pricing water as a valuable commodity would better motivate people to save. Right now it’s laughably cheap.

    • I agree completely, but DC water smells and tastes terrible. I would pay more if the water was better. There are only two things I don’t like about living in DC: 1) we have no vote, and 2) the water tastes like chemicals.

  • Phone companies basically do sell air time by the hour. They used to sell talk time in 100’s of minutes, though as best as I can tell it’s all unlimited talk now. They still do it with data, though. AT&T will sell you 1, 2, 4, or 6 GB of data, even though they meter it by the KB. If you go over by 1MB you have to buy a whole 1 GB.

    The water bill is much more fair, because partial CCFs get rolled over into the next month.

  • I have never been a fan of DC water. My issues with them go well beyond billing, but to your question, I’ve had a similar issue with them for more than a year.

    Starting about 15-16 months ago, my water bills would be EXACTLY the same from month to month, down to the same number of gallons (4,478).

    One might be able to believe that ones water bill would be virtually the same from month to month (+- 10%), but my situation is different.

    I have streaks where I travel a lot for work and so some months I am away for 2-3 weeks, some months I am home every day and yet you look back at my water bills and they are $71.80, and have 4,478 gallons of water used every month for the past 5. Before that it was $81.64 for a few months. Then it was $71.80 again for a 4 months stretch before that. None of my toilets or sinks / fixtures are leaking or running constantly. I’ve checked them all multiple times. I don’t have any leaks in the pipes in the house. I’ve checked that too as I put all the plumbing in two accessible bulkheads in my house when I renovated. No leaks there either.

    I had them out a couple times to check my meter, and they said it was fine. Then I tested it myself by turning off my water at the valve where it comes into the house to disprove leaky faucets etc, and the meter will read zero for those days, so I don’t think the meter is broken.

    I simply think their system has an “obvious” tendency to bill the same, which in my case is pretty severe overbilling.

    • Our bills were always around $35-40 and the previous tenants told us the same thing. And then 2 months in a row we got bills showing zero water usage. The first month I didn’t notice because it’s still $15ish even if you don’t use any water and we were out of town 1/2 the month. When I got the next bill showing no usage, I called. They came out and replaced our meter. Ever since they replaced the meter, we have used 2x as much water. Seriously – for 6 months we never used more than 2 ccf and after we are always in the 3-4 ccf range. And of course our bills now are $65-80/mo.

    • The usage in gallons that’s listed on your water bill is not your actual usage. It’s just the CCF they billed you for converted to gallons. To see your actual usage you have to look on the website, under Water Usage History->AMR usage. So, for example, my water bill for the past four months looks like this:
      3 CCF – 2,244 Gallons
      3 CCF – 2,244 Gallons
      4 CCF – 2,992 Gallons
      4 CCF – 2,992 Gallons
      But if I look in the AMR section I can change the units to gallons and I see the actual usage:
      2,147 Gallons
      2,491 Gallons
      2,618 Gallons
      2,656 Gallons
      I know this doesn’t explain the usage being steady despite your traveling, but it at least explains why your bill comes out to the same number of gallons consistently.

      • I think several comments above have addressed why your bill would be the same each month. You get billed for the last full ccf used and the remainder goes to the next month. Obviously using similar amounts each month means your bill would be exactly the same.

        Stop. Read. Absorb. One comment above answers all of these issues.

        • Oh look, we have the self imposed authority on all things DC water.

          No, it doesn’t answer my issues. First, the gallon usage I quoted came off my AMR, not my bill, and second, it doesn’t explain how I can be gone for 2 weeks, my house empty and still have the same water bill and usage of when I am there full time.

          • My comment was in reply to the comment to which I replied, not your comment. As you note, the meter is recording the same gallon usage every month, so your bill is the same every month. Why you think it is not what you’re actually using is not itself a billing issue, but some other issue, as the comment to which I replied stated plainly. My point was only that the process for billing was explained already – twice – clearly above.

  • Usage should be charged in gallons, period. I use less than a CCF per month, but am charged for one CCF every time. Charge me for my actual use.

  • Great question and I will do my best to explain why we bill the way we do.

    DC Water’s meters and billing system are billed in CCFs because it is a commonly used measurement calibration in how water meters are manufactured. The other common measurement calibration measures usage in 1,000 gallon increments. Since we decided to make CCF our standard measurement, our billing system and rates are designed by necessity to work the same way.

    One reason we decided to make CCF our standard configuration for measuring and billing is the wide variety of customers we serve. We have more than 30 different sizes and types of meters installed throughout our system – delivering water to small fountains up to large commercial, government or multi-family buildings. A measurement in CCF provides a common unit of measurable in all of our meters and that can apply to all accounts. We provide a translation on our bills to convert the CCF value to gallons as that is more readily understandable to customers.

    Depending on the size of the meter, the level of detail about how much water was delivered will vary. For smaller meters, we can see water usage down to as little as 1 cubic foot (or 7.48 gallons). While very large commercial meters also measure water as each gallon goes through, the significant amounts they use requires a meter that records data for us in 100 CF or higher intervals.

    While it may appear that CCFs are not “divisible” they are in fact divided in how we bill an account. Our meters measure all the water that goes through the meter, and will send us readings that are in some cases down to a single cubic foot. However, when we bill an account, we truncate the reading to the last full CCF, and carry over any remaining water until the next month. If you use 2,300 gallons of water, we will bill 3 CCF (2,244) and carry over only 56 gallons to the next month. If you use 2,900 gallons, we will also bill 3 CCF, but carry over 656 to the next month, possibly making that month’s bill jump to 4 CCF. So, while we do reward customers for conservation by only billing for what you actually use, there is just a small timing difference as the bill for quantities less than 748 gallons are delayed until the next month.

    Most of the time, customers like precision in billing to avoid unexpected bill increases. However, a CCF based billing system provides a greater level of precision to matching what we bill to what you use each month than one based in thousands of gallons. This is because at 748 gallons each incremental CCF is reached more quickly than it would be if we waited for a 1,000 gallon increment, so there is less to carry over to the next month. This allows greater consistency in the bills, because when you do reach a point where an extra CCF is accumulated and billed, the price difference in your bill is just $8.26. If we billed in 1,000 gallon increments, the effect of carrying over extra water to the next full 1,000 gallon mark would increase your bill by $11.04. We believe DC Water is bargain at just about a penny a gallon.

    It is possible that over time we could change our meters and our billing system to gallons, however the cost and level of effort for that would be extraordinary because we would have to run both types of systems for however long it takes to get 100% of the meters changed to the new system. We haven’t yet found the investment to be worthwhile compared to other investments we want to make in upgrading our pipes and other infrastructure.

    For customers who are mindful about conservation and want to watch their water consumption, our automated meter reading system can allow you to see your usage online at For most household size meters, this includes data at a gallon level. Please visit our website or give us a call for information on how to do this.

    John Lisle
    DC Water

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