Utility Water Systems
Automated Water Meters Provide City & Homeowner Benefits
Water districts in water challenged communities, such as in Southern California are installing automated water meter readers that can quickly
read the radio transmissions of many meters at a time and provide up-to-the-minute information
on daily use.
The automated water meters use radio signals to relay information about water usage, eliminating the need for an employee to stop by each customer's home or business. Some systems allow an employee in the field to read usage information on a laptop computer. Other systems relay the information to the district's administration office.
Benefits of Automated Water Meters
Not all cities currently even use water meters - relying on older estimated usage methods. In this day and age of water shortages, increasing costs of maintaining water infrastructures and water processing, more cities are moving to a meter system. The question is whether to use a traditional manually read system that uses people power, or newer models that use computerized technology to automate the meter reading process.
Instead of reading a customer's meter monthly or bimonthly, the automated meter provides an hourly reading. Customers get an early warning about constant usage that often indicates an undetected leak, and billing disputes can be more easily resolved by showing a spike in usage on a certain day, officials say.
Utility customers with automatic meters can go to their accounts online and see a bar graph showing their daily usage each week, then see how much water they used any hour on any given day.
Customer-service representatives are able to use hourly meter data from the automated meters to
provide more information to customers with questions about their bill. This frequently updated information can spot problems such as a toilet leak because it registers as an increase in continual usage. Breaks in water lines can also be spotted more rapidly and easily.
Meters that are more than 10 years old can wear and provide less than accurate readings. Some local water districts estimate that they may be losing $250,000 to $500,000 a year because of inaccurate meter readings.
Water districts are adopting a variety of strategies to implement automated metering. One district plans to convert to automated meters within three years, spacing out the installations so that it won't have to replace all the meter batteries at the same time.
Another district is selectively placing about 500 automated meters at homes that are difficult to reach or have troublesome dogs in their yards.
The Challenges for Automated Water Meters
Districts are closely monitoring the financial feasibility of switching to automated meters because the technology continues to change and they want to spend their monies carefully on technologies that are well proven and won't become rapidly outdated.