It's watering season. That means big water bills for many homeowners.
And with the way rates have been going up in recent years, you could pay hundreds of dollars this summer just to wash clothes and water your plants.
Could It Be A Water Leak?
Yvonne Schnelle thought she had a water leak at her small home in St Bernard, Ohio.
Her latest three-month combined water and sewer bill: A whopping $451.
But when she made a spreadsheet of five years of bills, she realized it wasn't because of a leak, or increased usage on her part, but sewage rates that have tripled.
"The water portion of my last bill was $147," she said, "but the sewage portion was almost $300. And I was like 'what is this?'"
Reasons For Soaring Rates
Sewer systems everywhere are jacking up rates, because of new EPA regulations and the cost of replacing aging water mains.
We consulted the former head of Cincinnati's Water Works for a decade, now-Director of Northern Kentucky's SD-1 sanitation district Dave Rager.
"It's across the nation, all the major cities and medium size cities are struggling with this. They have aging infrastructure and higher treatment requirements," Rager said.
Rager says unless you use a septic tank, you can't fight rising sewer rates. He says you just have to lower your water use.
Reduce Your Outdoor Usage
The biggest culprit during the summer is your yard. Rager says a garden hose or sprinkler runs three gallons per minute: That's 180 gallons per hour.
But he says many people over-water, using hundreds of gallons more than their lawn really needs.
-Don't water more than one inch per week, measured in a tuna can or Solo cup.
-Never water in the heat of the afternoon: The sun will evaporate almost 30 percent of what comes out of a sprinkler before it even hits the ground.
-For watering plants, consider buying a rain barrel to capture runoff from your roof. They typically hold 50 to 70 gallons of free water.
Around shrubs, Rager suggests laying down a rock garden to hold water.
"It is a system that captures the water and slowly percolates it so the trees and everything can be irrigated," Rager said.
Avoid Thirsty Plants
But the easiest way to save money outdoors is to buy plants and flowers that don't require a lot of water.
At Benken Florist in Silverton, garden center owner Mike Benken advises gardeners be careful of how many thirsty plants you buy.
Water hogs, that require almost daily watering, include:
-Petunias -Hydrangeas -Impatiens
He suggests buying water misers such as:
-Roses -Begonias -Plants in the cactus family, like sedum.
Water misers can go days, if not weeks in some cases, without extra watering.
Benken also says you should water with a wand to get just the roots: Don't waste water spraying your plants with a hose, you'll just be watering their leaves and the air.
Consider Replacing Older Appliances
Finally, back inside Schnelle's house, Rager suggests not rinsing dishes before using the dishwasher.
Also, he says replace water users like old washing machines that use 50 gallons a load. New HE machines use just 20.
And replace old toilets that use three to five gallons per flush with new toilets. A newer model, sold since 1994, uses just 1.6 gallons by law.
Some of the newest models built since 2006 will use just 1.28 gallon per flush, and work better than 10-year-old 1.6 gallon models.
Yvonne hopes a few changes will mean a smaller bill next time.
Don't Run Hose During The Winter
One last tip: With many water districts, including Cincinnati Water Works, your sewer rates are set based on your winter usage. That way you are not billed sewer charges for watering the lawn during the summer months. It makes sense.
So Rager suggests you try to use as little water as possible from December until March each year.
Don't wash the car with a garden hose, or blast the driveway with a hose cleaning during the winter. You are charged full sewage rates until April.
That way your summer rates will be lower, and you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.