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Location: Topsfield, MA
Details: The town of Topsfield replaced 500 conventional water meters with radio-read meters. This allowed the town to read meters more efficiently and bill these customers more frequently. The rest of the customers continued to receive semiannual water bills. All water customers were charged at the same 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 outreach efforts were made, in order to isolate the effect of more frequent billing on customer behavior.
In-Kind Cooperation: Town of Topsfield
Monitoring and Analysis: DCR and Tufts University with oversight from a Technical Advisory Committee
$55,000 provided by the grant and $25,000 provided by the town of Topsfield for the new meters. Installation and billing labor costs were covered by the town.
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.
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.