New metering system helps growing city save water & money
Located in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California, an area hit hard by recent droughts, the city of Merced’s Water System Division needed flexible and efficient water management solutions. Strict California water mandates following the historic droughts of 2014 and 2015 and continuing population growth increased the need for solutions.
Water conservation has been a priority for decades, but many cities, including Merced, were not historically metered. Merced’s Water System Division standardized with Badger Meter in the 1990s to address California’s newly adopted metering requirements.
The utility first deployed Badger Meter’s Recordall Disc Series meters with Trace, a drive-by/walk-by radio frequency automatic meter reading (AMR) system. Over the next 20 years, as technology advanced and Merced grew, the city deployed Badger Meter’s Orion Classic endpoints. This technology had added benefits, such as customer-side leak detection and data profiling. Nevertheless, even with these upgrades, inefficiencies existed. Only half the city was retrofitted with meters (approximately 10,500 meters were in the ground), and it took two workers more than a week to read all the meters in the system.
To address the unmetered portion of the system, the water system division devised a plan to install an additional 10,800 disc meters beyond the already existing 10,500 residential meters within the city. As the plan developed, the team also determined they needed a more efficient meter-reading solution to monitor their operations. In addition, the utility desired a solution to communicate more effectively with its customer base.
The division wanted to implement a system without fixed infrastructure. After speaking with its distributor, National Meter & Automation, the team realized that traditional fixed infrastructure would be costly to deploy, repair and maintain, and it would require ongoing build-outs as the system expanded. National Meter & Automation suggested cellular technology that offers the features and benefits of a fixed network without the need for physical gateways. Secure, commercially available cellular networks eliminated the need to invest in costly infrastructure and allowed for a rapid deployment.
Merced then developed a request for proposal and ultimately chose the Badger Meter cloud-based software analytics platform—Beacon Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) with Orion cellular endpoints and the EyeOnWater application.
The Zero Emissions Grant
With the plan in place, Merced applied for a California Zero Emissions Grant to help pay for the system. The grants were instituted following Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s call to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Leah Brown, water conservation specialist for the city of Merced, received a call from the state saying Merced had received the grant for $2.5 million.
State supervisors in charge of the grant program saw the potential for the city’s combined water and energy savings resulting from the new infrastructure-free fixed network solution. Because no physical infrastructure was needed, the software platform and endpoints would help the utility decrease traditional AMR drive time and improve water consumption accuracy. The grant also ensured the city could implement it more quickly than anticipated.
In a little less than one year, the five-man crew headed by Carl Brown, lead worker, installed the 10,800 new meters and cellular endpoints in the previously unmetered service locations.
The water utility team often worked more than 50 hours per week to deploy the system. The crews maintained strict quality control of the installation project with minimal disruption to customers. They worked side-by-side with National Meter & Automation, which maintained real-time inventory and brought in products as needed. By using the water department staff to prepare and install the new meters and endpoints, Merced saved more than 35% of the cost to use an independent contractor.
Throughout the install, data was collected electronically, and the division’s IT department worked with Badger Meter to import the new meter data into the utility billing system. This reduced the amount of time needed to enter the data and eliminated the potential for data entry errors.
With Merced’s formerly unmetered services now fully functioning, and with recent upgrades to the already installed meters in summer 2017, city staff began to see the results of their efforts. Staff can review consumption data and work with customers that have higher than normal usage patterns to identify potential leaks.
Prior to implementing Beacon AMA, it could take the team up to 30 days to see leaks because it only read meters once per month. The water team now is finding and addressing leaks within 24 hours, saving time and money for the water utility and its customers. In fact, after installing the new system, the division found a 500 gal-per-hour leak and immediately fixed it.
The utility team also has started using a new smartphone and tablet application called EyeOnWater. This tool is an added resource for real-time data capturing and improving customer service. Internally, the utility team is using the app and Beacon AMA to generate a real-time workload, so it no longer has to wait for the full meter reading cycle to occur. In addition, the utility showed customers how the application monitors their usage. Customers also can contact the team with questions.
The upgrades helped the city and its citizens exceed the state-mandated 36% reduction in water and energy consumption. Soon, customers also will be billed based on their actual usage rather than a flat rate because of the efficiencies and real-time metering capabilities provided by the utility’s new system. This increased insight into their water consumption has many of Merced’s water customers sharing positive feedback with the utility.
While Merced’s Water Supply Division continues to upgrade its system and introduce EyeOnWater to its customers, the technology is making an impact. Merced’s efforts are saving time and money, as well as preserving the environment through water and energy conservation.