Louisiana City Combines Technology and Team Effort to Create AMR Utilities Solution

Dec. 14, 2006

The city of Zachary, La., installed a new AMR Drive-By System in 2003 that earned them an international award presented by Public Technology, Inc for 2003 Solutions Winner, Small Energy Category. The award is designed to highlight technology implementations at the local government level aimed at improving governance and service delivery in their jurisdiction.

The project was driven by a group of city officials and utility management who mounted a citywide effort to improve their city’s water and gas metering.

“Chris Davezac, our utilities director, and myself started about five years ago to work on finding replacement meters," said Stephen Nunnery, Zachary's chief administrator. "We discussed and asked for quotes from some of the largest meter manufacturers including our present supplier, Master Meter. We had a full list of features and benefits for the city that we needed in the water and gas system.”

The list included;

  • Automatic meter reading system (AMR);
  • Reduction in meter reading time and manpower;
  • Highly reliable and accurate meters;
  • High level of technology advancement; and
  • Compatible meter data transfer to billing process.

Both Davezac and Nunnery investigated other utility locations, and also researched technology advances with major manufacturers and suppliers to understand product offerings and advantages. Driven by Zachary’s advancement to the second fastest growth community in Louisiana, they knew that they needed a system that could expand rapidly without any complex technology issues.

Meters selected
As the request for a bid moved forward, the City Council support was helpful. 6,000 Master Meter DIALOG 3G Wireless RF AMR water meters and 3,000 gas meters equipped with Master Meter Universal AMR compatible radios were selected and purchased for the city wide network from Master Meter, Inc.

The water meters have a DIALOG 3G Wireless RF radio permanently sealed in the register with its antenna requiring no external wires, and powered by lithium batteries with an average 10-year plus life. The meter self activates after the first cubic foot of water passes through and is pre-programmed at the factory to install like a standard water meter.

After the DIALOG 3G starts by itself, it is read from the utility truck driving down the street and the data is transferred to the billing software that the City of Zachary uses. An added bonus in terms of safety features is that dogs and the weather do not have any affect on the reading. The drive-by feature allows the meter reader to remain in a city vehicle, protected from the unpredictable nuisances outside.

No surprises
Davezac had his staff put the system in place to understand how it was installed and so that they would have the product expertise in their own group.

“No surprises for the future of the system,” said Davezac.

All of the issues that Zachary’s program had addressed were realized with the installation of the new system. There have been 5,870 water meters and 3,210 gas meters installed since the project started in mid-October 2003, and there is a noticeable difference in the number of water leaks from both residents and the city. These efficiencies have created less system water loss and with the more accurate DIALOG 3G Zachary has found that the meter recorded use of water has increased, thus creating more billable revenue.

Before the city started the project, there were four billing cycles and it took approximately two to three people a week to read just the older water meters. This summer the city will convert to two billing cycles with one person doing the reading for both water and gas one day per cycle.

The use of the new technology is a double win as the city receives funding because the data is more accurately collected and the actual read time is cut in half.

Everyone agrees that the program is going very well, and could not have been funded without the support of the Zachary City Council.

The hard upfront work and continued follow through of Davezac and Nunnery are what has sustained the program.

The combination of the technology, a funding blessing for being more effective, a long-term labor savings and revenue increase with the utility and municipal team that has made this happen will continue to pay off for the city of Zachary for years to come.

About the Author

Stephen Thomas