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South Florida might be an ideal destination for snowbirds and spring breakers, but its sandy soil and shallow water table can be hard on infrastructure, particularly old service lines.
Nevertheless, in May 2014, NMB Water in the city of North Miami Beach embarked on an ambitious $12 million advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project to replace more than 33,000 water meters in its northern Miami-Dade County service area.
The utility’s goal was to increase its efficiency and improve the accuracy of its billing, as well as leverage information gleaned from acoustic leak sensors it installed as part of the AMI project. NMB Water worked with Itron and Louisiana-based Pedal Valves to complete the project.
The AMI network comprises new meter technology, acoustic leak sensors, neighborhood collection units, repeaters and a customer web portal. Each meter is connected to an endpoint, which sends information about a customer’s water consumption to a collection unit using radio frequency. Repeaters help speed information to collection units. Acoustic leak sensors—NMB Water installed 11,000—are placed at approximately every third water meter, and offer insight into potential leaks in the distribution system. This way, the utility can identify leaks within three days, and the process of discovering them is far less labor-intensive.
With the new system, NMB Water receives hourly consumption information from each customer using a cloud-based program. The utility also is rolling out a customer web portal, which will allow customers access to these data.
The portal “will allow customers to view their water consumption in the cloud in near-real time. This information will provide them with access to their current water consumption patterns and give them the feedback to modify their use accordingly,” said Mark Perkins, public information officer for NMB Water.
Placing the meters, collection units and repeaters was a struggle. Unwilling owners refused access to some meters. There were meters behind locked gates and meters guarded by dogs. It was difficult for the utility to obtain approval to install collectors and repeaters on third-party utility poles. While the utility used a polymer lid design to replace old concrete meter box covers, these lids could float away in flood conditions. Finally, there was the issue of working adjacent to old or corroded service lines beyond the utility’s line of demarcation, which could sometimes leak due to the stress of tightening the coupling between the new meter and old piping.
Despite these obstacles, the utility is “very pleased with the completion of the project,” said NMB Water Chief Engineer Karim Rossy. “It took excellent cooperation and communication between Itron, Pedal Valves, the city’s information technology department and the utility’s construction division to bring this successful project to fruition.”
The project’s importance cannot be understated, Rossy said. “We are now able to read any meter at any time, without the limitations of staffing, locating and accessing the meter, and we can do so in any weather conditions. This immediate access to water consumption information also is utilized by our customer service department when speaking with customers over the phone.”
“Providing customers with the ability to better understand their water use in near-real time can have a profound impact on their water consumption and conservation efforts,” Perkins concluded.