From cows to advanced metering — a brief history of billing

If you were a Louisville Water customer in the 1860s, your bill was based on tariffs or “water rents.” An assessor would visit your home to calculate how much you owed according to the number of rooms you had. Water for a five- or six-room house cost $7 a year.

Water usage was pretty low in the late 1800s. People did not bathe every day. There were no dishwashers or washing machines, and there were few flush toilets. If your house did have a water closet (a toilet and wash bowl), that was an extra $2 on the water bill. Add in a private bath and you’d pay another $2. If you wanted to take hot baths, that would be $3. Then you’d pay another $1 for each cow and $2 for each horse. Adjusted for inflation, your 1860s water bill would have been from $296 to $370 in today’s dollars.

Bills for commercial operations in the late 1800s depended on the type and size of business: Barber shops were charged $5 for one chair and $9 for two; hotels were billed $1.50 per room; billiard saloons paid $3 per table; bourbon distillers were charged 10 cents per barrel.

Meters were first used for businesses that consumed large amounts of water. As Louisville Water leaders became concerned about customers wasting water if they paid a flat rate, more meters were put in place.

By the 1930s, Louisville Water was well on its way to becoming a fully metered system. The lobby of the company’s Third Street office became increasingly congested with customers paying their bills, so Louisville Water began letting customers pay at authorized substations, including pharmacies and hardware, grocery, and department stores.

By 1941, all Louisville Water services were metered. The day of the assessor was over. During the Second World War, with so many men fighting overseas, the company began reading meters every other month.

When the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) was formed in 1946, Louisville Water began including wastewater fees on its bills — one of the first cost-sharing practices between the two companies.

Louisville Water is now moving all customers back to monthly billing by upgrading everyone to advanced meters. The company started upgrading them in 2020, completed more than 100,000 installations earlier this year, and plans to implement advanced meters throughout the service area by 2024.