Kristie Anderson is marketing manager for Badger Meter. Anderson can be reached at [email protected].
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is known for its culture, art and history. Because of its location in the southwestern U.S., the city also is known to have a scarce and precious water supply. On average, it receives just 14 in. of rain per year compared to the national average of 39 in. With that level of rainfall, the role of Santa Fe’s water utility is critical. The city’s Water Division provides a reliable, safe and sustainable water supply to its more than 35,000 water and wastewater customers, who pay a premium for their water use.
In 2013, Santa Fe’s Water Division became aware that its drive-by meter reading system was failing. The system had successfully operated for three years following its installation. However, in the fourth and fifth years of the system’s life span, some water meters started to communicate the wrong read or became unresponsive. The Water Division was operating at 60 to 65% capacity, resulting in thousands of gallons of water loss. To ensure correct reads, the division’s technicians began manually reading the uncommunicative water meters, resulting in extended time in the field and hours wasted on inefficient operations. City residents began to lose confidence in the utility’s ability to provide water in a reliable and accurate manner.
Nick Schiavo took on the role of public utilities department director for the city of Santa Fe in 2013 amidst this growing breakdown in the water system and made it his first priority to find a solution.
Making a Difference
As a first step, the Santa Fe Water Division issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a water metering solution. After a competitive process, during which the utility looked at several solutions, the team selected Badger Meter’s Beacon advanced metering analytics (AMA) managed solution with Orion cellular endpoints and E-Series ultrasonic meters. Beacon AMA is a cloud-based software analytics platform that provides actionable data that water utilities use to regularly monitor consumption patterns, detect and fix leaks, and identify inefficiencies in water systems.
The division implemented the AMA managed solution with the cellular endpoints, which use existing cellular networks to transmit information from the meters to the water utility and eliminate the need for traditional fixed-network infrastructure. With these products in place, the utility managers quickly identified and, more importantly, addressed leaks in the system. Instead of manually reading meters once a month and having to make educated guesses about leaks, the team took a proactive approach to monitoring and analyzing the data.
Within the first few weeks of using the the AMA system, the Santa Fe Water Division found a startling 1,200 to 1,400 leaks in its water system. When it drilled down to identify exact locations, it found that many leaks were small and easily fixable. For the larger leaks—because the cellular endpoints transmit regular data to the utility about the state of the water system—utility managers could find and begin addressing the leaks within 24 hours. In the past, this process took approximately one month and required manual meter reading to identify a potential leak. This new ability to detect and address leaks much more quickly helped the utility limit non-revenue water loss and improve its customer service.
Rebuilding Trust & Confidence
Before the new metering solution was implemented, the Santa Fe Water Division customer service department found it challenging to manage customer questions and billing issues due to unreliable data. Following the installation of the new managed solution, the department had access to more reliable and accurate data, which improved the ease and efficiency of answering customer questions. When a customer would call a customer service representative with questions about bills, the utility representative could, with confidence, direct the customer to the AMA website and know that the information available was correct and up-to-date.
Every Drop Counts
As part of the Beacon AMA solution, Santa Fe Water Division customers also have access to a smartphone/web-based consumer application called EyeOnWater. This application allows customers to take a hands-on approach to their water usage via regular notifications and personalized, timely data. Consumers can see consumption data daily, hourly, monthly and annually via their smartphones, computers or tablets. In addition to helping consumers monitor consumption, EyeOnWater allows the water and wastewater customers to set alerts notifying them of a potential leak or high-usage period. The application also provides users with suggested actions to conserve water.
With increased awareness of consumption patterns and volume, Santa Fe water utility customers have become more engaged in water conservation efforts. Starting in 1997, Santa Fe began a “lead by example” water conservation program, which helped the city reduce per capita water consumption. With the addition of the EyeOnWater application, water utility customers now are actively and regularly monitoring their personal consumption to support the utility’s efforts.
It has been estimated that 10% of homes have water leaks that waste 90 gal or more per day. Without access to data that highlights these large leaks, the utility’s water customers could be looking at an average of 2,790 gal of water lost in a month and an enormous spike in their water bills. Consumer engagement platforms encourage greater accountability on behalf of both the utility and its customers, as well as increased response time—all of which improve efficiency and water conservation.
New Meters for Greater Reliability
During the overhaul of its water system, Santa Fe’s Water Division also installed ultrasonic meters and the company’s Recordall disc series meters, ranging from 5/8 in. to 4 in. in size, throughout the city in two phases. First, the utility added small meters to the majority of its residential customers, and after that installation was completed, it added large meters to its remaining residential and commercial customers. The “cash registers” of the water system, these ultrasonic and disc meters improved accuracy and provided high-resolution detail throughout the Santa Fe system.
Advancements in technology have increased the accuracy and reliability of water meters over the past decade, and with the introduction of ultrasonic technology to the market, utilities now have greater flexibility to monitor across a variety of flows. Ultrasonic meters use high-frequency sound waves to measure water flow. Within each meter, electronic transducers send high-frequency sound signals consecutively in forward and reverse directions. Then, an onboard processor turns this data into actionable information for the water utility.
These “smarter” and more advanced meters can increase accuracy up to 1.5% over the normal operating range of the meter, and 3% at extended low flows. And, since ultrasonic meters use solid-state technology and have no moving parts, they have improved reliability and increased life expectancy compared to traditional mechanical meters.
Changing the Business of Water
Prior to the implementation of the new managed solution and meters, the public was beginning to lose confidence in Santa Fe’s Water Division. Inaccurate data, time lost manually reading meters and other operational inefficiencies were hurting the utility’s relationship with its customers and impacting its overall effectiveness.
After taking a step back to understand its challenges, exploring opportunities to address the issues and implementing a solution, the Santa Fe Water Division has reduced leaks, improved customer service and increased efficiencies.
Cellular technology has eliminated the need for traditional fixed-network infrastructure and the labor costs associated with maintaining that infrastructure. The EyeOnWater consumer engagement tool has brought utility customers into the business of water by helping them understand their water use. And new ultrasonic meters are increasing accuracy and long-term viability of meters.
While each aspect of the system has made an impact on the utility’s operations, together they have transformed Santa Fe’s Water Division operations.