The Soaring Cost of San Diego’s Water Meter Project

Written by Nicholas Vetrisek

Since the coronavirus pandemic gripped our nation, many major programs planned for the City of San Diego have been cut. Unfortunately, the poorly managed water meter project is not one of them. Not only has it not been cut, its estimated cost has been doubled.

The approved cost for the 2020 budget was $67 million, but the proposed 2021 budget states that the program will cost $125 million.

In response to journalists asking why the city needs an extra $58 million, a spokesman said that “increased funds would be used for equipment and to ensure an adequate workforce for all aspects of the implementation including but not limited to installation routing and scheduling, customer education, equipment installation and system integration.”

The program was first promoted by the city in 2012 as a way to stop employees from needing to manually read water meters while also helping customers by giving them information about their water usage. So far, however, the project has only managed to waste millions while only a mere six percent of San Diegans have access to them.

This recent overstretch of the initial budget is only the most recent in a long line of government failures related to the program. There have been many accounts of mismanaged funds and untrained staff with the reports ultimately culminating in the halting of the project in 2018.

Despite numerous reorganizations of staff and multiple firings of head officials, including the firing of the five top managers and directors last year, the program seems to be not one step closer to completion or even resolving the issues that previously plagued it. Though the water meter program is notorious for having been severely mismanaged financially, no officials from the project have agreed to speak publicly about the increased budget.

The budget increase will be put to a vote by the San Diego City Council in June. As a result of the pandemic, the city is in a financial crisis of proportions never before seen. It needs every dollar it can spare and can not afford to be spending what few resources it still has on bridges to nowhere.


Photo by Jp Valery