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Guide to the Submeter Program

The Submeter Program is for business customers who discharge a volume of water to the sewer significantly more or less than the incoming water. Customers install submeters on their business’ internal plumbing to accurately measure and bill for water that is discharged to the sewer.
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Who Should Participate

For most businesses, the volume of water that flows into their building is roughly equal to the volume of water drained to the sewer. In those cases, a business’ sewer volume is billed based on the incoming water meter. For some businesses, the volume of water discharged to the sewer can be significantly less than the incoming City water. These businesses may benefit from the Submeter Program.

Business processes where water in is more than water out includes:

  • Cooling towers or boilers are used.
  • Landscape irrigation.
  • Beverage bottling, food production, and packaging.

Businesses that discharge greater volumes of wastewater to the sewer than the water coming in may be required to install a submeter and comply with the program’s conditions.

Business process where water in is less than water out includes:

  • Using water from a well.
  • Rainfall harvesting.
  • Hauling in water for discharge to the sewer.

Who is Eligible?

To be eligible, your business must:

  • Be a City of Portland sewer/stormwater/water utility customer.
  • Pay the commercial rate for sewer and water charges.
  • Put water into a manufactured product, operate cooling towers or other systems that evaporate water, or irrigate a landscape.
  • Determine that the cost of the water volume going into product, evaporation, and/or irrigation exceeds the costs and fees for a submeter. Contact the Submeter Program for assistance with these calculations.
  • Be willing to purchase, install, regularly maintain, and calibrate a meter for the purposes of measuring water/sewer that may affect sewer billing.
  • Commit to read, record, and submit submeter reads per a schedule established by Environmental Services.

For more information, please see Administrative Rules ENB-4.32.

Types of Submeters

Credit Submeter

This type of submeter is installed on a water line that “feeds” to water-loss processes such as beverage or food production, irrigation pipes, and cooling towers. The reduction in sewer charges shows as a credit on the utility bill that equals the current commercial/industrial sanitary sewage volume rate.

Discharge Submeter

This type of submeter is installed on the outgoing sewer pipe to measure water discharged to the sewer system. Discharge meters can be complex to install and operate. They must be approved by Environmental Services prior to installation and carefully selected for the type of water the meter will measure. Working with a meter vendor or technician can ensure the proper meter is selected. The meter owner must maintain and calibrate the meter to ensure accuracy.

Physical Submeter Alternatives

When a physical meter is infeasible to install or may not accurately record flows, Environmental Services may allow a sewer user to propose an alternative method of calculation in lieu of installing submeters. Any alternative methods used for sewer billing must be measurable, verifiable, and approved by Environmental Services.

Environmental Services Rules and Regulations

Program Application

To be eligible to participate in the Environmental Services Submeter Program, a business must submit a completed application. Reduced charges or credit can only be granted for those operations and processes identified in the application. Reduced charges or credits cannot be granted for wastewater discharges that occurred prior to acceptance into the Submeter Program.


Many program participants must report their own submeter readings to Environmental Services using the submeter reporting form. Failure to report valid reads by the due date will result in a loss of sewer credit for that billing cycle. Reduced charges or credit will not be granted retroactively for a period in which no reports were submitted. A program participant who fails to provide credit meter reads for a period of two months or more may be deemed inactive and removed from the program.

Missed reporting on an account with a discharge submeter is considered a Portland City Code violation and may result in the account being billed for the full amount of water passing through the incoming supply meter and up to three times the incoming supply flow provided by non-City sources.

Program participants making process or site changes that affect meter reads or calculations must notify Environmental Services within 30 days of the process or site change. This includes the replacement or repair of submeters.

Meter Requirements

The property owner is responsible for purchasing, installing, maintaining, and calibrating the private meter and must comply with all provisions in Portland City Code 17.36.050 and Administrative Rules ENB-4.32. Meters must be approved by Environmental Services as to type, size, and location before installation.

  • All meters must be totalizing meters and register in cubic feet.
  • Meters to be read by the Portland Water Bureau must be installed in a standard meter vault with an easily accessible lid and have a non-fogging register.
  • All meters must be located in an area that is freely accessible at all times and does not present a danger to City employees as determined by Environmental Services. A remote meter reader may be installed for meters that are difficult to access.
  • The owner of a meter must implement a maintenance and calibration program to ensure meter accuracy. The program must be based on the manufacturer’s recommended frequencies. All maintenance and calibration records must be retained and available for review by City personnel.

How to Enroll in the Submeter Program

To enroll in the Submeter Program, businesses must first consult with the Environmental Services Submeter Program on estimated use, meter application, and meter type. After this initial consultation, a business may purchase and install a submeter and submit a completed program application. Submeters must comply with Portland City Code 17.36.050 and Administrative Rules ENB-4.32.

Enroll in the Submeter Program

Program Fees

To participate, a business pays program and administrative costs per meter and per bill. The yearly administrative costs depend on how many submeters your business has installed and how frequently your business is billed for sewer, stormwater, and water services—either monthly or quarterly. Fees are dependent on the current fiscal year water and sewer rates. New rates are published in July.

Additional Resources