Accounting for Water Usage

With the growing concern over aging infrastructure, municipal and private water departments across the U.S. are relying on water revenue to offset costs associated with capital improvements. Open any newspaper, and you can read about a water main break on a daily basis. While such issues are a major contributor of water loss, municipalities also must account for a silent culprit—water usage that is not metered or metered improperly.

One solution is water metering. In a 2003 speech, G. Tracy Mehan III, the EPA’s assistant administrator of the Office of Water, said, “If all communities would implement metering to measure their consumption, then there would be a basis for price incentives to begin to work. For example, Westfield, Mass., went from no meters to a fully metered system. The installation of meters enabled the city to set a metered water rate that allowed for complete cost recovery of its existing and projected expenses. Also, the city found that it could abandon plans to develop a new surface water source as its customers began to conserve water. Imagine the water savings if cities the size of Chicago and Sacramento fully metered their systems.”

The village of Tinley Park, Ill., began working toward this goal to account for all water usage. In seven years, the village became the first municipality in the state to eliminate water loss.

The village’s increasing population of more than 60,000 receives its water from Lake Michigan. As one of 118 communities to receive water from the lake, Tinley Park currently has over 23,000 connections and since 2002, billed water usage has increased nearly 7%.

The sharp reduction in water loss had led the village to replace its base of mechanical water meters with SmartMeter intelligent water meters from Severn Trent Services .

In 2002, Tinley Park purchased 5,000 meters; subsequent orders followed. In 2005, the village’s board approved a contract meter replacement program. Averaging 120 meter replacements per month, more than 18,000 water meters were installed through April 2008. An additional 3,500 are scheduled for installation in fiscal year 2009.

Unlike mechanical water meters that are susceptible to wear from grit, sand or particulates, these water meters have no moving parts, eliminating the progressive loss of accuracy that is common with mechanical meters. Using fluidic oscillation technology, the meters remain accurate throughout their lifetime, ensuring consistent revenue recovery. Additionally, they do not measure air and provide extended data features such as leakage, low and no-flow detection and tamper and fraud alerts.

These features have contributed to Tinley Park’s reduction in lost revenue through early detection of leaks and have helped establish water usage patterns and corresponding water rates. The village has been able to detect when consumption is low or zero—a common occurrence due to winter travel. Also, the water meters’ help with water conservation has been critical during a period of drought the village experienced in 2005.

Recent meter accuracy testing in accordance with Illinois state guidelines shows the village is accounting for 100.3% of all water. With all water accounted for, the village is ready for the year 2013, when recovered revenue will surpass the water meter investment.

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