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Why Public Water is Important
By Josephine Posti

You have found the perfect location for your business.

Your customers can get there easily on well-built roads or by convenient public transportation. Reliable electricity will power everything you and your workers need to run your business operations. High-speed Internet is available to meet your data needs. But do you know where your water comes from?

Of all of our needs, water is the single most important. It is a life essential resource – we need it every day for almost everything we do and there is no substitute. At about one penny per gallon, it is simple to see the true value of water service. When considering whether to build a business or development, public water versus pumping water from a private well can make all the difference in terms of reliability, adequate supply and dependable fire protection.

New businesses should have their engineer estimate how much water they anticipate using and confirm with the water company if supply can meet their demand. If you plan to connect your new property into a water company’s distribution system, the water provider can help you determine whether there is an existing water main adjacent to your property to meet your water needs. If a main needs to be extended to your property, the water company can verify whether such an extension would be permissible, but remember, that cost is usually borne by the customer. For example, a main extension estimate can range from $100 to $200 per feet depending on the pipe size, length of installation and municipal or state road.

The next consideration would be estimating usage. While the typical residential household uses an average of 150 gallons of water per day, commercial and industrial customers can use thousands of gallons per day, depending on their water and fire protection needs. Your engineer can help you estimate your project’s Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDU) – an estimate of water usage that may be important information to share with your wastewater service provider. It will also help to determine whether their distribution system can adequately meet your water demands or whether any upgrades will be necessary to meet those demands.

Once you have determined availability of service, it is time to start the application process. Many water utilities are governed by a tariff, or set of rules and regulations agreed to by the Public Utility Commission. Reviewing your service provider’s tariff will give you an understanding of their rates as well as the requirements for new services, meter pits and backflow devices. In most cases, an existing main with adequate supply adjacent to the property requesting water service must be in place before the property owner can apply for service. For example, Pennsylvania American Water charges a $30 application fee that is added to an account’s first invoice once service is established.

After your application is approved, you will need to install a service pipe and meter pit or vault according to the water company’s specifications. The service pipe is the pipeline you own and are responsible for maintaining, which connects your in-home plumbing to the company’s control valve (curb stop). Service pipe meter pit and vault installation costs all vary depending on the meter pit or vault supplier as well as the setting in which they would be installed. Your building’s required service line size determines whether a vault is necessary and costs for vaults and pits can range anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000 depending on the size of meter that is required. Another planning cost consideration to keep in mind is permitting which might be required to begin work, often requiring approval by a zoning and planning board which can take several weeks. While zoning and planning approval is usually done when the building documents are initially submitted, it is important to verify the process with your municipality. Permitting cost is estimated at $2,500 to over $10,000 depending on what permitting may be required. It is also important to consider if your project will need to meet any additional requirements by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. For example, some businesses may be performing processes that could impact the water distribution system. Special state permits, inspections or additional equipment might be required as a result.

Once the service pipe and meter pit or vault are installed, notify the water company to have the service pipe connected to their water main. This procedure may take a few weeks, and include certain permits, so provide ample notification so they can meet your needs. The water company will then install a water meter at your property to monitor usage. A water meter is installed, owned, maintained, and replaced by the water company, but the customer is responsible for protecting it from freezing during cold weather.

Other potential costs, depending upon your service provider’s tariff as well as site-specific conditions, may be a backflow prevention device as well as a pressure reducing valve. The costs of these devices, if required, are borne by the customer and help to monitor usage, prevent contamination into the distribution system and help to maintain adequate water pressure. Backflow devices are required for all non-residential customers to prevent an accidental cross connection between the potable (drinkable) water supply and any source of non-potable liquid, solid or gas that could contaminate drinking water under certain circumstances. Most plumbing codes require water pressure reducing valves on domestic systems where the municipal water main's pressure exceeds 80psi. Higher pressures could rupture pipes, damage fixtures, and injure the people using them.

One of the major benefits provided by public water service is fire protection through public fire hydrants connected to the distribution system or sprinkler systems within your structure. A well-maintained public water distribution system with adequate pressure can be the difference between recovery and disaster in the event of a fire. Many insurance companies evaluate fire department response times, access to hydrants and reliability of water sources when determining rates. Businesses located in areas that rely on water being trucked in or fire departments pumping water from creeks or streams are at a disadvantage when it comes to a timely, reliable response in the event of a fire.

Before beginning your project, check with your municipality regarding fire protection requirements. A fire sprinkler system will require the installation of a backflow prevention assembly. Your water provider can help you determine what type of backflow assembly is required. If your project requires a fire suppression line rather than a regular sprinkler system, your water provider can work with you to ensure that the appropriate valves are installed in order to valve down the part of the building not impacted by fire, focusing water in one area and preventing water damage in the rest of the building.

Clean, safe and reliable water distribution systems attract business and manufacturing and can be an important factor in whether a business moves to or expands in an area. A sound, well-maintained water infrastructure is very important to job creation. Your local water utility is eager to help meet your needs and make your project a success.

About the Author:
Josephine Posti is a Senior External Affairs Specialist for Pennsylvania American Water.  She is responsible for communications and community relations in PAW’s Western Pennsylvania service areas. She can be reached at (724) 743-3103 or

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