Jul 09, 2019

Modern Meter Reading

Utility implements system for improved billing & conservation

South Walton Utility Co. Inc. installed advanced metering infrastructure as a means to better understand its infrastructure and to monitor its backflow preventers to reduce replacement frequency.
South Walton Utility Co. Inc. installed advanced metering infrastructure as a means to better understand its infrastructure and to monitor its backflow preventers to reduce replacement frequency.

Miramar Beach, Fla., is a community located on the Gulf of Mexico known as the Emerald Coast. Situated in the southern part of Walton County and east of the popular resort city of Destin, Fla., Miramar Beach has gorgeous white sand beaches and numerous recreational opportunities that attract thousands of tourists each year.

Since 2000, Miramar Beach has tripled its population, growing from 2,435 residents in 2000 to 7,385 in 2018. This growth reflects the area’s emerging economy, which has created new issues to address, such as the decreasing efficacy of Miramar Beach’s outdated water metering system.

 

Problem Areas

South Walton Utility Co. Inc. (SWUCI) manages Miramar Beach’s water and wastewater services. In the past, one utility employee would drive around the service area reading meters however, as the employee approached retirement, the utility recognized it needed to update its metering system.

“We realized that having a meter reader who actually touched every single meter every month was becoming kind of antiquated,” said Alicia Keeter, general manager for SWUCI. “It was a lot for one person to have to read, and as we grew in size, we needed to adapt to technology and add automated meter reading. Whether we did radio read or the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system—we weren’t sure which one we wanted to do.”

SWUCI also needed to address a regulatory issue that potentially could cost a great deal of money.

“The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which monitors and regulates our water systems with the state of Florida, wanted us to start changing out our backflow preventers every 10 years,” Keeter said. “One way we could work through that scenario is if we have a way to automatically detect backflow, then we don’t have to change them out as frequently, which helps save us money for the system.”

 

Necessities Versus Niceities

The utility assessed a number of systems before making its decision.

“We had the different companies come and do their presentations to us,” Keeter said. “And based off the use of the network operations center (NOC), customer service from a local standpoint, and meter factories that were within the U.S. and adaptable to whatever needs we had, [we were] more apt to choose Mueller Systems.”

The Mi.Net AMI system allows meters to be read remotely rather than assigning somebody to drive around to read them. The two-way system sends information via radio frequencies to a tower located on a water tank to the office on a daily basis. 

The system connects meters, distribution sensors and control devices to provide near-real-time data to help SWUCI monitor water consumption and determine where and if leaks exist in its pipe network. If the system detects a problem, it immediately sends an email and alarm to administrators, who can address the issue in a timely fashion, which saves the utility money and reduces water loss. 

Additionally, the AMI system sends an alert when backflow conditions are detected, helping the utility remain compliant with Florida DEP regulations.

Keeter said its meters previously were not reading, and they were not detecting the issue until much later. 

“We would go to zero usage not only one month, but two months, because of the way that we read the system,” Keeter said. “Then you have to go back out and check to make sure there’s not a problem with the meter. We catch these sooner now—within a couple of days. Whereas before, it was two months.”

She added that the AMI sytem also created improvements in conservation because the utility has a deeper understanding of what is happening throughout the entire system.

“[Northwest Florida] Water Management District is the regulatory agency that we obtain our consumptive use permit from, and that’s one of their requirements—minimizing our water loss,” Keeter said. “So not only did it help us from a revenue standpoint, but it helped us from a regulatory standpoint.”

The ongoing installation and execution of the system has been a positive experience for both the user and provider.

“The project team overall was very effective for us,” Keeter said. “Just the fact that we have that great team of people, that large amount of people working with us to provide customer service, made the decision so much easier and makes our project work so much better. When there’s a problem, they know about it, and they quickly respond, react and take care of it.”

 

Looking Ahead

Keeter said SWUCI also is discussing other ways to help the utility become more efficient.

“We’re looking at leak detection, any type of shutoff meters for the future, and we’re going to look at the customer portal,” Keeter said. “Those are projects that we look forward to in the future with Mueller.”

About the author

Bobby Barker is metrology territory manager for Mueller Water Products. Barker can be reached at [email protected]

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