The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Finance Center, in collaboration with the ...
The town of Woodstock, Va., faced a dilemma: Town officials recognized the need to upgrade water meter infrastructure in order to accurately track water usage but lacked the staff resources to manage the process.
At the same time, the community of 4,300 residents was losing money by not charging homes and businesses for their actual water consumption. Searching for a solution, officials discovered TAC, a world leader in energy services, building automation and security. TAC’s Energy Solutions division could provide the personnel and project management expertise for the water meter changeout.
Improving Accuracy & Income
Woodstock was losing valuable revenue because its aging water meters failed to correctly monitor the amount of water each customer was using. Furthermore, the Commonwealth of Virginia began placing new government regulations on localities such as Woodstock that are within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To date, these have included nutrient reduction for the town’s wastewater treatment plant, and in the future, the state may limit the amount of water the town is permitted to draw from the Shenandoah River. In response to these regulations, Woodstock must seek alternative water sources, and recouping previously lost revenue will enable the town to meet this additional cost.
“Antiquated water meters are a major cause of lost revenues for municipal water utilities,” said Wes McDaniel, vice president of TAC Energy Solutions. “The investment in materials and time necessary to complete a meter upgrade often prevents cities from undertaking this type of project. TAC can do this service quickly and with minimal disruption to residents and businesses so that a city can begin to realize the revenue from accurately billing customers for their water usage.”
TAC installed new water meters with an automatic meter reading (AMR) system from Neptune Technology Group, Inc., a company that develops AMR technology and provides utility automation systems. With a reputation for accuracy and dependability, Neptune positive displacement meters use a nutating disc measuring chamber and meet or exceed all the latest industry standards. The corrosion-resistant, lead-free maincase can withstand most service conditions such as internal water pressure, rough handling and inline piping stress. Neptune’s AMR software minimizes errors, improves meter reading accuracy and efficiency and provides intelligent data that optimizes the operations of any size utility.
TAC completed the $1.2-million townwide meter retrofit project in just six months, with minimal impact on town staff, versus the five to 10 years the town estimated it would need if it relied on its own limited resources. The new meters will accurately measure water flow to provide for precise customer billing, which should allow the town to receive more than $25,000 in additional revenue annually.
Saving Time, Improving Billing
In addition to accurately capturing actual water use, another benefit of installing the new water meter technology is the drastic reduction in the staff time needed to read the water meters. Woodstock’s meter readers can now read the entire water meter population in two and a half hours, according to Brent Manuel, assistant town manager. Before the installation of the radio-read water meter system, the entire meter reading process took 10 days or more to complete. Due to the extreme amount of time needed to read the water meters, the town read and billed only half its water accounts every two months.
“With the installation of the new system, we now read and bill the entire town’s water accounts monthly,” Manuel said. “This could not have come at a better time for our residents, as we are experiencing significant rate increases. Going to monthly billing helps lessen the financial burden of a higher bill every two months. This is especially important to our low-to-moderate income residents, as well as the town’s significant elderly and retired households who are on fixed incomes.”
Furthermore, due to the town currently reading and billing water customers monthly, if a customer has a leak in the interior plumbing of the structure, the town will be able to monitor the problem on a monthly basis and notify the customer a month earlier due to the new radio-read system. This can save customers a substantial amount of money and have a positive effect on the environment because as a result, the town will not draw from the Shenandoah River water that the customer base is no longer using.
Finally, with all the new water meters in place, the town can budget to monitor and then change out a percentage of the water meters when testing determines the need for new ones.
After the meter installation, Woodstock officials immediately observed that usage was higher than previously recorded because meters are reading more accurately; however, the new system has not been in place long enough for the town to determine if customer usage has risen or fallen because of the accurate reading meters.
“The summer months should give us a better indication of the usage patterns of the customers,” Manuel said. “With the increase in water and sewer rates, we hope that our customers will consider using more environmentally friendly methods of doing daily exercises, such as watering flowers from a rain barrel as opposed to using finished water.”
Having replaced the antiquated water meters, the city of Woodstock is now able to accurately bill customers and collect revenue it was losing for years. The accurate billing enables Woodstock to properly balance project funding between the amount of revenue the town receives from water usage and the amount of revenue collected for tap/availability fees for new customers. This means that even with many capital improvement projects ongoing and on the horizon, the town will not have to place an undue hardship on either revenue source.