Solving non-revenue water challenges with static water meters
Mechanical meters have historically been the choice for water systems; after all, they were the only choice for decades. However, with the onset of new meter technology, many water systems are making the move to static water meters. The town of Dexter, N.M., recently upgraded from aging mechanical meters to static ultrasonic water meters. The switch has resulted in the town reducing non-revenue water while helping customers understand their increased bills and find leaks on their properties.
Time Is Money
Dexter, a suburb of Roswell, N.M., is located in the southeast part of the state. With 650 metering points, the town was billing customers based on consumption numbers from mechanical meters that were 20 to 30 years old. Because mechanical meters have moving parts, the internal parts wear and the meters become less accurate over time.
“The meters not registering the water usage was really hitting [the town] in the pocketbook,” said Aaron Burke, co-owner of Resource-Wise, a New Mexico-based water leak detection company and water meter distributor for Dexter’s replacement project.
Water that is pumped into the distribution network but not invoiced can cost a water system significantly. The utility still incurs the costs of cleaning, pumping and distributing the water, but does not receive full payment for these services.
In addition to the inaccuracies that were contributing to non-revenue water the meter readers were manually reading meters. It took three workers two days to read four meter books.
“The city was looking for new meters and meter reading system,” Burke said. “The engineering company was first spec’ing another metering system, but once we showed them the Kamstrup flowIQ water meters and automatic meter reading system, they chose this system instead.”
“We notice a big difference in our efficiency,” said Fito Torres, lead operator for the town of Dexter. “There is no comparison to the efficiency [of the new drive-by system] to manual readings.”
With the new meter reading system, the meter locations are plotted on Google Maps and the meter reader drives past to read the meters. “We now read meters in two to three hours,” Torres said. “With the extra time, we can break [our personnel] loose from reading meters and they can catch up on jobs they’re assigned to, which is great.”
Dexter has seen an increase in the amount of water registered by the ultrasonic water meters. When comparing November 2015 consumption with November 2016, the new water meters registered an additional 1.3 million gal.
Water professionals considering the upgrade to new static meters often express concern about feedback or questions from their customers about higher bills. Since the new meters measure significantly lower flows than mechanical water meters, it is inevitable that the utility is billing for every drop of water; therefore, customer bills will increase.
“Some of our customers have called and asked why their bill is higher,” Torres said. “It’s going to take some getting used to [for our residents], because the meter is reading everything. If they had a leaking faucet, for example, the old meter wasn’t catching it and now the new one is, so it brings up questions.”
An advantage of the new meter reading system is the ability to review water use information, which is stored in a data logger inside the meter. Dexter utility personnel use this historical data to explain to customers why their bills are higher. Customers who have access to the data on their water understand that the bill is now a true reflection of their actual water use.
In the same vein, the new water meters also have alarms to notify customers of leaks on their properties. Once the new meters were installed in Dexter, 40% to 50% of the meters had leak alarms. Now, utility personnel are notifying customers of leaks, which helps the community save water and customers save money.
“We are excited about our new meter reading system because of the long-term benefits it will provide to our water department and our community,” said Yolanda Alvarez, utility clerk for the town of Dexter. “We will have a system that is easy to use for us and, at the same time, will provide a lot of valuable information to our customers to help them save water and money.”
The town of Dexter and Occam Engineers Inc., based in Roswell, N.M., have cooperated to design the meter replacement plan. The project is being funded by the town of Dexter and Community Development Block Grant funds. The meter replacements will be performed by Albuquerque-based Total Contracting Services.