Location: Topsfield, MA


  • Demonstrate the value of radio-read water meters in increasing the frequency with which (1) water suppliers bill their customers, and (2) customers make the connection between their water use and the cost of water.
  • Reduce overall water demand on the public water supplies of Topsfield.
  • Quantify the water savings associated with use of frequent billing and conservation-oriented rate structures.

Description:  The town of Topsfield replaced 500 conventional water meters with radio-read meters. This allowed the town to read meters more efficiently and, as a result, bill these customers more frequently.  The town converted its billing system to allow the 500 radio-read customers to receive a monthly water bill.  The rest of the customers continued to receive semiannual water bills. All water customers were charged at the same unit rate; the only variation was the frequency of billing.  The town uses a progressive block-rate structure to encourage water conservation. 

All customers received a billing insert at the start of the study briefly explaining the importance of water conservation and the purpose of the study.  No other specific educational outreach efforts were made, in order to isolate the effects of more frequent billing on customer behavior.


Data Collection and Analysis:  The town compiled both “historic” (years 2000-2005) and post-installation (2006-2007) water-use records for the customers receiving monthly bills (the “pilot” group).  Assessor’s data were used to select an appropriate “control” group from residential customers who continued to receive semiannual bills.  The town also compiled water-use records for the same periods for this control group of customers.  The project researchers compared water use during the two time periods for both the pilot group and control group. 



  • Five hundred radio-read meters were installed between January and June 2006.
  • Monthly billing for customers with radio-read meters began in June 2006 and continued through October 2007.
  • The town of Topsfield imposed restrictions on outdoor water use during the summers of 2006 and 2007, a factor which greatly affected summer water use by both the control and pilot groups.

Costs:  $55,000 provided by the grant; $25,000 provided by the town of Topsfield to cover the cost of the new meters. Installation labor costs were covered by the town.

Key Results and Conclusions:  In both 2006 and 2007, Topsfield implemented strict outdoor watering limits for significant periods of the summer.  These mandatory restrictions affected all customers and made it difficult to separate the influence of the billing conversion from the influence of the water-use restriction on the pilot group’s summer water use.  Both the pilot and control groups significantly reduced their water use during the summers of 2006 and 2007.  The project was therefore unable to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of monthly billing as a means of encouraging conservation.

In-Kind Cooperation: Town of Topsfield

Monitoring and Analysis: DCR and Tufts University with oversight from a Technical Advisory Committee comprised of eight water conservation professionals; domestic water use records provided by the Topsfield Water Department