Nation's Largest AMR System Comes Online in DC

July 2, 2003
High Tech Focus

About the author: Denise Covelli is editor of WWD.

Driven by the need to replace aging, inaccurate water meters, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) has spent the past 16 months implementing North America's largest water utility Fixed Network RF System, working with the team of ABB, United Metering and Hexagram. 

This automated meter reading (AMR) project was awarded to these companies in December of 2001. ABB's $11 million portion of the $36 million, three-year project was for 130,000 new ABB absolute encoder water meters -- approximately 110,000 residential and 20,000 commercial meters.

WASA's analysis had indicated that its previous base of residential and commercial meters, many of which were more than 25 years old,  required significant, costly maintenance. Many of these meters would run slowly and did not always record the correct usage, making it necessary to depend on estimated readings.

"As part of our ongoing capital improvement program, we've always viewed this project as an operational excellence initiative," said Jerry Johnson, WASA general manager.  "The revenue improvement we will see from meter replacement covers the cost of the program.  The AMR technology from ABB enables WASA to both improve our operations and provide better service to our customers in terms of measurement and billing accuracy and timeliness.  The keys to selecting the ABB/United Metering/Hexagram Team were their past performance on similar environments and the strength of their technology."

The project began a few months later, focusing on the residential changeover. All meters were equipped with Hexagram automated meter reading technology including transmitters. The fixed network data collection system was also integrated with WASA's customer billing and information system.  United Metering has been managing the project and installing the new equipment.

 As of spring 2003, the residential changeover was complete, and WASA announced the success in its customer newsletter What's On Tap. It was explained to customers that they would be able to track their water consumption online or over the phone, benefiting both sides: "This way, if you suspect there is a leak lurking somewhere on your property or at the meter, you'll know and we'll know. The new meters have state-of-the-art meter-reading technology that allows us to find these leaks without dispatching personnel to your home. It also makes us able to detect meter malfunctioning, tampering and vandalism, as well as instantly alerting us to the theft of water from disconnected accounts." WASA also announced that billing would begin on a monthly basis, replacing the quarterly billing cycle.

Few problems were encountered during the changeover, and those were resolved "as quickly as possible," according to WASA, which had established a problem-solving team early on -- specifically to handle issues as they arose.

Now that the new system is in operation, the radio frequency device at each meter sends its meter reading to a data collector unit twice each day. Then on a daily basis, the data collector unit forwards all the meter readings it has collected to customer service headquarters for billing.

The District of Columbia WASA is a multi-jurisdictional regional utility that provides drinking water, wastewater collection and treatment to more than 500,000 residential, commercial and governmental customers in the District of Columbia.  The utility also collects and treats wastewater for 1.6 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.

WASA's Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, located in southwest Washington, is the largest advanced wastewater treatment facility in the world. The plant covers 150 acres with a capacity of 370 million gallons per day (mgd) and has a peak capacity of 1.076 billion gallons per day.

Approximately 1,200 employees work at various facilities throughout the district, with a service area of approximately 725 square miles.

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About the Author

Denise Covelli

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