Tammy Fulop is vice president of energy solutions for Schneider Electric. Fulop can be reached at [email protected].
Public schools, hospitals and parks vie to receive funding for critical upgrades and other modernization efforts, which has stretched municipal budgets. City budgets are strict, and sometimes there is not enough to cover all the maintenance required for certain facilities, which increases the deferred maintenance list year after year.
Water plants and wastewater treatment facilities represent some of the most significant cost drivers for municipalities, sometimes costing $10 million or more to run each year. As a result, water and wastewater facilities often get moved to the bottom of the priority list for municipalities, forcing them to run longer without maintenance or upgrades. This begins an endless loop of playing catch-up, as aging facilities can cost more to manage, especially when equipment reaches the end of its lifecycle.
Fortunately for municipalities, there are cost-efficient, sustainable alternatives available for existing systems, such as smart water metering. Smart water metering gives municipalities the data they need to monitor and make better decisions about their water usage. These alternatives can be deployed through innovative funding mechanisms that require zero capital outlay, while also laying the groundwork for future project expansion.
Real-Time Data Monitoring
The city of La Porte, Ind., had known for years that its aging metering infrastructure needed an upgrade. The city wanted new meters with real-time data monitoring, which led it to install an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system. It sought a quick upgrade (as most of its water meters are located in residents’ basements) because a lengthy project would be an inconvenience to customers.
La Porte entered a partnership with Schneider Electric to install nearly 10,000 meters and the AMI smart network in less than one year. The complete project put all of the meters on the same network to alert customers about issues with water systems, including leaks and near real-time water flows. Customers could analyze their water use to find excesses related to leaks, running toilets and other behaviors. The city also built resiliency into its plant operations with more than 1 MW of solar generation for its wastewater plant. This generated 100% of its annual electricity.
By investing in a 20-year AMI system, the city updated its infrastructure with a communication platform for upcoming city assets. The water and wastewater facilities can expand service to future customers without dramatically increasing costs or resources associated with meter reading. As such, operational costs fell and budget resources grew for other needed improvements for the town. The new AMI system also reduced re-reads, billing errors, water loss, shut-offs and other incidents, and water customers received improvements without increases to taxes or rates.
Stemming Water Loss
Similar to La Porte, Maryville, Mo., runs on a tight budget and has pipes and systems that range from 40 to 50 years old. The city experienced a near 13% loss in revenue due to its aging water system. When city officials realized they were missing opportunities to generate revenue and improve operational efficiency, they voted to update existing water meters to reduce this water loss. Additionally, as a college town, the city faces seasonal flow and revenue challenges due to student moving patterns in the spring and fall.
The town collaborated with Schneider Electric on a performance contract to guarantee meter accuracy and savings so the city could improve its water metering and leak detection systems without raising taxes. Through the partnership, Maryville replaced 4,250 water meters and implemented an AMI sytem, which saved an additional $44,000 in its operations and maintenance budget each year.
Maryville benefits from two-way communication over a fixed network between the utility system and the metering endpoints. This provides the public works department with access at any hour to water use information. In addition to analyzing water consumption, the new system accurately reads meters for billing. Leak detection identifies water loss throughout the system’s water mains and empowers facility staff to plan for routine water meter replacement, after which the system logs the replacement information into the city’s distribution system. For the migrant college population, the system automatically generates a final bill once residents move out.
Since implementing the system, Maryville relies on water and sewer services as a core business with improved service delivery during busy months, reduced potential for lost revenue, and accurate data to encourage residents and businesses to become more water efficient.
Eliminating Manual Estimations
The city of Raymondville, Texas, operates with a system that includes 2,791 water meters, all of which were manually read by meter readers each month. This labor-intensive process can result in bill estimations when the meters cannot be accessed due to obstructions such as parked cars. Additionally, human error during meter reading may cause billing problems and potentially re-reading meters, which becomes costly in a city of 11,000 people. In addition to inaccurate meter reading, the outdated water meters were unable to detect water leaks quickly, resulting in more expensive monthly bills.
The city implemented a city-wide water meter upgrade to improve its services, increase meter accuracy and reporting, and address its critical infrastructure needs. In addition to improving services, the project increased water revenue by 9% without adding new taxes or fees to residents. This initiative will generate more than $4 million for the city, which will fully fund the project. This creates net savings to be used for other city needs, projects or initiatives, and in fact, since its implementation, the city has saved enough to fund additional infrastructure projects.
Upon completion, the project mitigated water loss, improved performance and efficiency, improved billing accuracy, reduced costs in meter reading and field visits, provided better outage and leakage information and response, and guaranteed performance and savings. The new advanced meter system also equips residents with daily access to their water usage in their homes and businesses through a web-based application.
Balance the Scales
Municipalities of all sizes face the same challenge in determining priorities with a static budget, while balancing resident expectations, future planning and existing improvement demands. Innovative funding goes beyond discovering untapped savings in existing infrastructure as it allows a city to redefine the way it operates and looks to future expansion. Partnering with experienced performance contracting experts offers a long-term course for improvement with initiatives designed to increase savings, efficiency, and sustainability while also opening the door to new revenue streams.
Finding a partner with expertise in innovative funding strategies and municipal operations was critical for these cities to improve their water and wastewater infrastructure. With the right types of partners, municipalities can not only plan their budget out to fund immediate improvement projects, but also extend that funding throughout the project by recognizing the savings generated. Deferred maintenance does not need to be a hindrance to facility efficiency and reliability when the right mechanisms are in place.