Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) of Birmingham, Ala., has consistently achieved the rating of the number-five water system in the United States...
There were two major hurricanes that came through Louisiana in 2005. Most people remember the first, Katrina, because it caused major damage in New Orleans and displaced a portion of the population. But later, Hurricane Rita caused heavy damage in western Louisiana. The storm caused widespread damage with high water surge, flooding and winds with related tornados. In Cameron Parrish, near the gulf coast, Rita’s storm surge flooded the entire community with disastrous results. Building structures shifted, were pushed miles away, were smashed and washed away. Pipes and connections were fractured and ripped out of place.
Establishing a plan
When the news and weather reports began tracking the hurricane, James Cox, the Cameron Parrish Waterworks water general manager, knew he had a major problem. The day after the storm passed through, displaced himself, he drove back to survey the damage and establish a plan to restore the water system and service to his customers. At the time, there were about 1,800 connections, most flooded in several feet of seawater.
The Cameron Parrish water tower lost its water pressure because major leaks were draining the water from the tower. The objective was to close all the shutoff valves in the breached tributary areas and get his well pump station to pump water to the Cameron tower. That would establish the system's water pressure again. Then, from the shutoff valves to the customers' meters, they had to flush out the lines back to the meters so they could establish service for their customers.
According the Cox, "The only things that were working in the entire water system were the DIALOG 3G wireless RF AMR water meters and drive-by system from Master Meter. The major reason we had installed the new 3G system to the water system was because it is a self-contained unit and has no wires. We asked around and found that if you had wires and a rodent problem, you would have cut wires. We have crawfish, moles and snakes, and we liked the idea that the 3G is a self-contained unit with no wires and easy to put in the ground. We figured that if we were going to advance our system that much, we should get the best we could afford, and Master Meter was our best choice and lower than their competition."
After the hurricane, all of Cameron's meters were under water and later under several feet of debris. According to Cox, it was like finding meters in the middle of a lake or a dump. Even when the water cleared, several feet of debris and the hurricane-modified terrain made it almost impossible to visually locate the meters. One bright point in this time of hard work and long hours was that the AMR meters could be located because they were signaling, and their signal helped them to be found in a timely manner.
With the help of a few people outside of his staff, Cox was able to put more than 1,000 of his customers back in service within the first four or five days. "It wasn’t potable water, but they could flush the toilet and take a shower," Cox said. "That made a huge difference."
Labor cost for meter reading has gone down about two-thirds, and Cameron's growth expansion has continued to 2,600 customers. Cox is now looking at a plan to take the complete system to a Master Meter drive-by system. If it worked during and after a hurricane while underwater, then it will work just fine every day.
"Today, our community still continues to recover and grow because of the storm, but our water system plans are moving forward to serve our growing community," Cox said.