Private properties and buildings are fed drinking water through private water service lines connected, or “tapped,” off public water distribution water mains. Iowa City Water Division personnel turn water service lines on and off via a service stop box as permitted by City of Iowa City code, including shutting down service leaks. City owned water meters are placed on private services to read the amount of water used by a customer for billing purposes. There are options for separate water meters to be installed for single-purpose watering use.


Water service lines

In its simplest form, a water service line is a combination of valves and piping that feeds water from the publicly owned water main into a building.  Private water service lines are owned and maintained by individual property owners. View the water service line diagram to see common parts that make up a water service line and what they are called.

Property owners are responsible for the service connection (tap) on the public water main, the piping (service line) from the tap to the water meter, and all associated appurtenances and structures.  When a problem occurs on a service line, the Water Division will assist the property owner in determining the cause of the problem and an appropriate course of action to remedy the situation.


Service stop box

A stop box is used to turn the water service on and off to a property. It is usually located in the public right-of-way. City of Iowa City code requires that the stop box (curb stop) be operable at all times. The property owner owns the stop box and is responsible for its maintenance.

Iowa City Water Division personnel operate stop boxes to turn the water on or to turn the water off when:

  • A customer pays a final bill
  • A customer needs to complete internal plumbing repairs
  • A service leak becomes hazardous
  • A customer fails to pay their city utility bill

A stop box must to be repaired when:

  • The stop is too high or too low; the top of the stop box should be level with the ground
  • The stop box is located under concrete or asphalt and is not accessible
  • The curb stop valve does not operate
  • The housing becomes bent and a key cannot be lowered onto the valve to operate
  • The rod is loose and does not connect to the curb stop valve

Water Division personnel are not licensed to make plumbing repairs. The property owner will be notified by carding, phone, email, or mail to make any necessary repairs to their stop box. We recommend that a licensed plumber be hired to make the repairs. If required repairs are not made, the Water Division will hire a plumber and bill repair costs to the customer.  Costs to repair stop boxes vary greatly, and depend on the type and extent of needed repairs.


Service leaks

Call the Water Division at 319-356-5160 if you see water leaking out of the ground around your stop box or water line. Staff will make an on-site visit to assist in determining the location of the leak. Sometimes leaks are hard to pinpoint because water follows along the path of least resistance and does not always come to the surface near the leak. Repairing any service leak is the responsibility of the property owner, who must contact a private plumber to complete the work.

During our annual routine survey of the water distribution system, service leaks that are not surfacing above ground are sometimes found. Once the Water Division determines the location of the leak, the property owner will be notified that there is a leak on their service, and that they need to contact a licensed plumber to repair the leak.


Water Meters

The water meter is owned by the City of Iowa City Water Division. It is usually located in the basement or utility room. Property owners are responsible for protecting their meter from freezing temperatures and to provide access to the meter and meter reading system.

If you have a high water bill and do not know why, call the Water Division at 319-356-5160 for assistance. A representative will come to your home to assist in determining the cause. In most cases, high water usage is caused by a leaking faucet, malfunctioning water softener, furnace humidifier, ice maker, or leaking toilet. We recommend that all leaks and faulty equipment be repaired to reduce the wasted consumption on your monthly bill.


Single-purpose watering use

Customers with swimming pools or large lawns or gardens traditionally use a higher volume of water in the summer than in other seasons, resulting in higher utility bills. Increased water usage also impacts sewer fees, as charges are based on the volume of water drawn through a water meter. Even though the water used for lawns or gardens soaks into the ground and never enters the wastewater system, residents are charged for discharge into the sewer.

These sewer charges may be avoided with the installation of a separate water meter. The City currently offers two options: a permanently installed single-purpose meter, also known as an irrigation meter, or a portable water meter kit. If large amounts of water are used to water lawns or gardens on an annual basis, the installation of a permanent single purpose meter may be a better option. Customers who need extra water for a short period of time, such as for watering a new lawn or trees or filling a pool, may prefer the portable water meter kit. The kit records the amount of water used, after which sewer charges are figured and then deducted from the next month’s utility bill.

Based on current fees and water use costs, the Water Division calculates that it would take approximately 6,750 gallons of water per month to justify the cost of renting a portable meter. Most lawns or gardens need one to two inches of water per week, depending on climate and soil conditions. To estimate how many gallons of water you would need, multiply the square footage of the lawn or space to be watered by 0.62 gallons for one inch of water per square foot or 1.24 gallons for two inches per square foot. The result will give you the number of gallons required for your watering projects each week. Multiply the number by four (weeks) to estimate a monthly water usage, and if it exceeds 6,750 gallons, it is most likely you would benefit from renting a portable meter.

To rent a portable kit, stop by the Iowa City Water Treatment Facility at 80 Stephen Atkins Drive between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Kits may be rented April 1 through October 1, weather permitting. Payment may be made by check or exact cash amount, and is due at the time of application. Units that are not returned by the rental deadline, or that are returned damaged, will result in charges for the cost of replacing or repairing the meter.

Customers who wish to install a permanent single-purpose water meter are responsible for all expenses associated with its installation. For more information, contact the Water Division at 319-356-5160.

If a separate water meter is not feasible, the Water Division offers the following suggestions to curb water usage during the summer months:

  • Use a rain gauge to measure how much rain has been received. An inch or two each week is sufficient to keep your lawn and garden healthy.
  • When you need to water, do so in the late evening after the sun has set, or during the early morning when the air is coolest. Watering in the morning or midday is often wasteful, as much of the water will evaporate before it can infiltrate into the soil.
  • The lawn will absorb water more effectively if it is added all at once. Instead of watering for a short period every day, water less often but for a longer period of time. This allows the water to reach the deeper roots and will help sustain a healthy lawn.