Electric water meters coming

A major upgrade could soon be in the works for Marietta’s water customers as city officials are looking to install higher-tech electronic water meters that can be monitored from the city meter reader’s vehicle. The changeover is expected to be costly, but utility administrator Kim Nohe said the city has little choice.

“The meter company we’ve used for the last 12 years went out of business and we don’t have a large amount of parts on our shelf to replace or repair the meters we’re currently using,” she said.

Florida-based Elster AMCO Water Inc., which manufactured the city’s water meters and supplied repair parts, closed its doors in June.

Nohe said city council has been kept abreast of the situation, but upgrading the 6,800 water meters on the city system has become more pressing since Elster shut down its operations.

“We need to move forward on this soon,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of meters in stock to replace old units. Also there are some new businesses coming into the city that will need water meters installed.”

Most of the city’s current meters must be read through use of a keypad mounted on each meter, which is a time-consuming task for meter readers. But a couple of years ago, anticipating the eventual need to upgrade those meters, the city installed between 200 and 250 units that could be read remotely using a radio and laptop computer system.

The majority of those radio-monitored meters have been installed in a general area between the Walmart complex and Kardex industrial park in Reno.

“To date we’ve had few problems with that pilot system, and those meters have been basically installed on industrial or commercial business facilities,”said Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp.

He noted the radio frequency meter technology is nothing new and has been used by utility companies and other communities for several years.

“We changed our meters over seven years ago for remote radio reading,” said Belpre deputy auditor Lisa Rankin.

She said the town’s meter reader rarely has to leave his truck in order to take a reading unless some problem develops with the meter.

“Usually those problems are due to a meter that’s been struck by a lawn mower or the wiring has been damaged in some way,” Rankin said. “But the majority of the meters are in good condition.”

Belpre has around 3,500 water customers, and the ability to remotely read water meters has given the meter reader more time to help with system maintenance.

“Our meter reading only takes about half a day now, and we read a quarter of the city’s meters each week,” said Mike Metz, public works superintendent for the city of Belpre.

But he added that meters still have to be turned on or off manually, and maintenance is also still required of the three workers in the city’s water utilities department.

Rankin noted after the electronic units were installed the city discovered some of the old meters weren’t registering accurate readings and the city was losing money.

“We caught a lot of meters that weren’t reading right, so the new system has allowed us to recover some of that revenue,” she said.

Nohe said a rough estimate for changing Marietta’s current water meters to electronic metering could be in the $1.5 million to $2.5 million range, depending on the type of system selected. And that would not include labor for installation.

A radio frequency meter system that allows meter reading from a vehicle on the street would be the least expensive. She said a virtual metering system would be more expensive, but could allow all water meters to be read from a central location in the city water department office.

Marietta Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, who chairs council’s water, sewer and sanitation committee, said a radio frequency system is the most likely to be selected, but the type of meters and cost would have to be determined.

“We’ll have to figure out what system we want, and there could be a big difference in cost if the city can install it instead of hiring a contractor,” he said.

The cost of the meter upgrade will be reflected in the bills of city water customers, but both Nohe and McCauley agreed that installation of the new meters could be done in phases.

“I’ve suggested doing a quarter of the city at a time, which would have less of an impact on everyone,” Nohe said. “We don’t want to cause a dramatic change in the water rates and want to do this without a huge burden on anyone.”

McCauley said the meter upgrade could be paid through the issuance of bond anticipation notes (BAN) that would allow the cost to be spread over a number of years, easing the burden on city water customers.

He said a determination on the cost of the system would have to be made soon because council is beginning work on the 2014 budget and funding would have to be set aside to pay for the first phase of the meter upgrade.

“We would probably start the first phase sometime next year,” McCauley said.