Below, you can find quick information and links for commonly requested topics regarding utility service and upkeep. Questions are divided by subject, and include topics such as lead in drinking water, procedures for identifying and marking utility lines, and requesting new connections to public water and sewer utilities.
Home & Residential
Cold Weather Best Practices
Your Water Pipes - Cold Weather Best Practices
As winter approaches, Howard County’s Bureau of Utilities would like to offer residents some suggestions on how to avoid the damage that can be caused when water pipes freeze and burst.
Critical Water Users Sign Up Form
The Howard County Bureau of Utilities defines a critical water user as a business or facility that uses water as a critical function of their overall process. This includes, but is not limited to: hospitals, health care facilities, nursing homes, assisted living centers, day care centers, and schools.
For more information, click the button below.
Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG)
Did you know that nearly 50 percent of all sewage overflows nationwide are caused by homeowners who improperly dispose of everyday Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG)? These overflows are not just public health issues, but can result in serious damage to our environment, especially pollution of our streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
As the lead agency that responds to sewage overflows, the Bureau of Utilities has taken on the challenge of educating residents on how they can and should dispose of these fats, oils and greases found in foods and food ingredients we use in our homes everyday: meat, cooking oil, butter, shortening, margarine, baked goods, sauces and dairy products.
For more information, click the button below.
High Water Usage Information
If you notice that your water usage is unusually high, there could be many potential causes. Luckily, some of these causes can be easily diagnosed and corrected. For information on potential causes of high water consumption, click the button below.
Hot Water Heater "Dip Tube" Issue
Over the past few years, the Bureau of Utilities has received a number of complaints from homeowners about low water pressure and a decrease in the availability of hot water in their homes.
Upon inspection, these problems were found to be due to a defective part of the homeowner's hot water heater. The extension of the cold water supply pipe (the "Dip Tube") in the hot water heater was found to be disintegrating, causing plastic particles to clog up the aerators (screens) in the faucets of the home. Normally, the replacement of the hot water heater and the cleaning of all the aerators in the house are necessary to resolve this issue.
Below is a diagram of a hot water tank that shows where the dip tube is located in most units. If you have any further questions about this subject, please don't hesitate to call the Bureau at (410) 313-4900.
Household Water Pressure Problems
Sometimes, a home's water pressure can begin to abnormally increase or decrease. If water flows properly from some taps but not others, check the aerators (screens) on the affected taps. Aerators may be plugged with debris.* Similarly, the screen on your laundry machine or dishwasher may be blocked.
(*For additional info, see the Hot Water Heater "Dip Tube" Issue tab.)
If water pressure is low all the time, on all taps, the Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) likely needs adjusting. The PRV is typically a fist-sized, bell-shaped valve with a bolt sticking out of the bell end. It’s typically near the household shut-off valve and water meter, and is part of the household plumbing.* The county building code requires PRVs on homes to protect household plumbing from high pressures that may occur in the municipal system.
(*Note that the PRV is not owned by Howard County, and therefore is the responsibility of the homeowner.)
Alternatively, if water seems to "spurt" on all taps, the PRVs screen may need to be cleaned. Spurting is when there is good pressure for a few seconds, and then the pressure lowers and flow slows down. The screen protects the PRV and household plumbing from debris, and sometimes you'll have to clean the screen and adjust the PRV.
Below, you can find some instructions on cleaning and adjusting your PRV, details on how a PRV functions, and a diagram of a PRV's parts. If you do not feel confident in doing this work, we recommend you contact a local plumber for assistance.
Cleaning the Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) Strainer Screen (to address Spurting)*
*Not all brands contain a cleanable straining device.
- Turn water to the PRV off by turning off the main waterline leading to the PRV - this valve is usually located where the waterline enters the home. Leaving the water on during cleaning may cause flooding. Water still in the household pipes will drain back, so have a bucket ready.
- Ensure no one is using water during this procedure.
- Unscrew the Strainer Plug, which is a large cap screw on the upstream side.
- Remove and clean the stainless steel Strainer Screen.
- Reinstall Strainer Screen and Strainer Plug.
- Carefully turn water back on, and examine the system for leaks.
Adjusting the Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV)
- Unscrew the Lock Nut.
- Adjust pressure. For more pressure, turn the adjusting screw down (clockwise); for less pressure, turn the adjusting screw up (counter-clockwise).
- Retighten the Lock Nut so the adjusting screen cannot turn on its own.
How the Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) Works
If you are interested in how PRVs work, here are more details – assuming the system starts with high pressure downstream in the home:
- High downstream pressure pushes the rubber Diaphragm up, pulling up the Yoke and Disc (which are connected).
- The Disc moves closer to the Seat, pinching off the water from the high pressure upstream supply from your water source. The pinching creates friction, which reduces the downstream pressure.
- The reduced downstream pressure allows the Diaphragm, Yoke and Disc to move down. This reduces the friction lost through the seat, increasing the downstream pressure.
- A balance is soon struck between processes 1–3 and 4–5, thus providing the appropriate pressure.
- Adjusting Screw down increases the downward force on the Diaphragm, Yoke and Disc. This makes it harder to squeeze off the water flow, thus lessening the friction. The lesser friction increases the downstream pressure. Adjusting Screw up decreases the downward force on the Diaphragm, Yoke and Disc. This makes it easier to squeeze off the flow, thus increasing friction and decreasing the downstream pressure.
Water Meter Readings
How does the County assure water meter readings and water bills are accurate?
- Most water meters in Howard County are read electronically via radio interface, thereby minimizing human error.
- Water meter data is transferred electronically to the County's billing system, again minimizing human error.
- These readings are automatically compared to the previous readings and/or the reading from the same time period in the prior year. If a substantial difference is found, the bill is reviewed individually by a staff member.
- If the staff member determines that the difference is significant and there is no mitigating reason for the discrepancy, a field investigation will ensue to identify and resolve the problem.
- While it is extremely rare that the actual water meters over-register, the most common cause is a malfunctioning transmitter.
We do our best to ensure all billed water meter readings are correct. If you feel your water bill is inaccurate, give us a call at (410) 313-2058, Monday through Friday, during the hours of 8am and 5pm.
Water Meter Vault or Ball Valve Box Lid Repair
Located along your property line, there is a water meter or a ball valve box. This provides access to a ball valve that can be used to shut off the water serving your house if needed - in case of a water leak in your home, for example. These plastic Ball Valve Box Lids sometimes get damaged by lawnmowers and by other means, preventing us or a plumber from turning off your water in case of an emergency.
If you need your Ball Valve Box Lid repaired or have a damaged Water Meter Vault Lid, or can't determine where the Water Meter Vault or Ball Valve Box is located for your property, please call (410) 313-4900 to schedule the repair at no charge. We will be happy to send a person to locate where your water comes in at your property.
Maintenance & Emergencies
If you are connected to the public sewer system and experience a sewer blockage, it is recommended that you call the County first at (410) 313-4900 before calling a plumber.
We can dispatch a sewer truck to send a high-pressure water hose down through the cleanout, near your property line, out to the sewer main.
This can possibly resolve the problem if the blockage is on the County's side (public), but if it doesn't resolve the problem, it will ensure that the County's portion of your sewer service is open and not causing the problem. This knowledge can be helpful if you do have to call a plumber to repair your private sewer.
Please see the image below for a more detailed explanation of the responsibilities for the county and homeowners.
If you have any further questions about these or any other public water/sewer subjects, please don't hesitate to call the Bureau of Utilities at (410) 313-4900.
Underground Utilities Marking and Line Location
Water & Sewer Office Location
After Hours Emergencies: (410) 313-2929
As a member of Maryland's "One Call Concept" system (or "Miss Utility"), Howard County receives more than 100 daily requests from excavators to locate and mark public water and sewer lines.
For more information on underground marking, click the button below.
Water Main Breaks
Among our responsibilities that lead to a stable, quality water system for Howard County, the timely repair of water main breaks is a priority. In 2013, the Bureau of Utilities repaired 160 water main breaks. We sincerely appreciate your patience when such inconveniences arise in your area.
If you notice water coming up out of a road, curb and gutter, or other area, please avoid the location as the water may have caused unsafe undermining of the surface. Call us at (410) 313-4900 to report the situation and we will respond immediately.
Water Meter Maintenance Program
In an effort to update our aging infrastructure, the County announced in November 2019 that it will begin an eight-year Water Meter Maintenance Program to replace aging radio transmitters on all public water meters.
The top section of the water meter houses a low power radio transmitter that sends water usage data to meter-reading trucks. This data is used to compute water bills. These devices use batteries that are coming to the end of their useful life of ten years. As a result, the Bureau of Utilities will be replacing the radio transmitter with new units that will be more reliable and have a twenty year life span.
If a resident's water meter is inside the home, Utilities staff will be setting up appointments to coordinate the replacement. This change-out should take less than twenty minutes to complete.
For more information on the Water Meter Maintenance Program, click the button below to visit the Water Meter Division page.
Water Service Leak
If you believe you have a water leak on your private property, it is recommended that you call the Bureau of Utilities at (410) 313-4900 before calling a plumber. We can determine if the leak is on your side (private) or on the County's side (public).
This will determine whose responsibility it is to repair the leak. We can also turn the water off at the water valve near your property line to prevent further or potential water damage.
For less obvious water appearances, we can also test for fluoride and chlorine content to determine if water originates from the County's Water system - or if it comes from an underground spring or surface groundwater.
Water Quality & Treatment
Enhanced Nutrient Removal (LPWRP)
The Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant is undergoing a $92-million Enhanced Nutrient Removal Expansion and Improvements project (Addition No. 7).
Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus lead to degraded water quality, which negatively impacts plant and animal life in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. These excess nutrients can flow into the Bay from wastewater treatment plant discharges, stormwater runoff, and rainfall.
To learn more about Howard County's work in water reclamation and our contributions to local water quality, click the button below.
Lead in Drinking Water
How Lead Gets into Drinking Water
Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. For more information on lead in drinking water, click the button below.
Public Water Supply Sources
Howard County Public Water Supply Sources
If you live in the North Laurel area, east of Interstate 95 and south of Patuxent Range Road, your water comes from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) in Laurel. If you live anywhere else in Howard County and are connected to public water, your water comes from Baltimore City. Howard County purchases water from Baltimore City and WSSC.
Wastewater Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance
The Wastewater Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) Program is intended to cover all aspects of sanitary sewer collection and conveyance, from wastewater generation to treatment.
The primary purpose of the CMOM Program is to collect information and manage resources to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, sanitary sewer overflows by collating, tracking, and improving the efficiency of the sewage system.
For more information, click the button below.
The Bureau of Utilities conducts regular testing of various water conditions at over 150 locations throughout the system to ensure the highest quality water available for the citizens of Howard County.
Results are available in your 2023 Water Quality Report. To access reports from previous years, click the button below.
Water Resources Element Amendment
Bureau of Utilities - Water Resources Element
The Water Resources Element (WRE), an amendment to General Plan 2000, was adopted in April 2010. The WRE is intended to ensure the County has adequate land and water capacity for the treatment of wastewater and stormwater in order to support future growth.
The WRE contains policies and actions to help the County manage water resources more sustainably to ensure that, as the County continues to grow, water resources will be conserved, protected, and restored to health.
The WRE is included in PlanHoward 2030 by reference and may be updated in the future to reflect evolving water and sewer demand and pollution reduction requirements.
Water & Sewer Service
New Water and Sewer Connections - Charges & Rate Schedule
For information on costs of new connections, associated charges, and scheduled rates, click the button below.
Private Well and Septic Systems
The Bureau of Utilities administers and maintains the County's public water and sewer system serving the eastern area of the county.
If you are not connected to the public water/sewer system and have questions about your private well and septic system, please see the Health Department's Well and Septic Program page by clicking the button below.
Sewer Cleanout Cap Repair
In Howard County, it is the Homeowner's responsibility to maintain their sewer cleanout in a working condition. This prevents possible sewer backups from debris entering the system, safeguarding the system and preventing expensive construction costs for treatment capacities. It also complies with the Howard County Code Section 18.122 A, stating "... No sewer system user shall discharge or cause to be discharged to the public sewerage system, stormwater, surface water, groundwater, etc."
Cleanout caps are frequently damaged by lawn mowers and/or buried by landscaping work. For an example of what cleanout caps commonly look like, see the image below.
Cleanout caps can be repaired by property owners, but the Bureau of Utilities also provides a service to repair it for you. If you would like the Bureau to do the repair, you can download, print, and mail us the appropriate Repair Request Form (see below).
If you decide to do it yourself, replacement parts are stocked by plumbing supply houses and hardware stores. If you are unable to locate a part, or have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Bureau of Utilities at (410) 313-4900 (8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.)
Depending on the type and extent of damage, we can replace:
Sewer Connection Loan Program
Howard County has begun a program to assist property owners with the costs of connecting to the sanitary sewer system as part of County efforts to protect the environment, keep groundwater clean, and improve infrastructure. The purpose of the program is to encourage as many property owners as possible to connect to the existing system in order to reduce the number of septic systems.
Through the Howard County Code (Title 20. Taxes, Charges, and Fees, Subtitle 7. Water/Sewer Connection Financing Program, Section 20.700), the County is making available loans to finance all or part of the costs of switching existing septic connections to the public water and sewerage systems. Note that this program applies to property owners who seek to connect to the public sewerage system or both the public water and sewerage system, not water-only connections.
Connecting to the Howard County sewerage system through this program is a wise investment for multiple reasons, such as:
- Real estate professionals have indicated that equivalent properties with sewer connections are of higher value than those on septic systems.
- Nitrogen and other by-products of even well-functioning septic systems are significant contributors to Chesapeake Bay pollution.
- The Howard County Health Department does not authorize replacement septic systems for properties that have access to sewer lines.
For more information on the program, click the button below.
Water and Sewer Billing (Department of Finance)
Water/sewer bills are issued on a quarterly basis. Water usage charges are a property lien, and the property owner is responsible for payment. The County does not pro-rate between buyer/seller or landlord/tenant.
Charges are based on metered water usage, which is then multiplied by the current water and sewer rates. Additionally, there is a water account user charge based on meter size and a sewer account charge set at a flat rate. Please note that the water and sewer account charges are billed each quarter even if there is no water usage.
For more information on how water/sewer bills are calculated and payment methods, click the button below to visit the Department of Finance's Water & Sewer Billing page.