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Automatic water meters well ahead of schedule

More than 10,000 radios have been installed on city water meters to date. - Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter
More than 10,000 radios have been installed on city water meters to date.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

The city’s Automated Water Meter Reading program passed a big milestone this year with the installation of the 10,000th radio on city water meters.

As of March 31, 10,450 radios have been installed, well ahead of schedule at this point. In total, 17,500 radios will be installed by mid-2015, about 18 months ahead of the originally scheduled five-year deadline.

“We are way ahead of schedule,” said Public Works Water Engineering Supervisor Abdoul Gafour.

Gafour said the original plan was to install about 3,500 radios per year, but as the crews, led by project manager J.D. Wilson, got rolling and familiar with the procedure, it started to move very quickly and the city is now averaging 5,000 radio installations per year.

“Our crew is doing a good job,” Gafour said.

According to Gafour the meters have helped the city locate 891 water leaks since the program began in January 2012, including 236 “major leaks,” such as broken pipes, and about 655 minor leaks, like leaking toilets or fixtures, saving homeowners thousands.

“We did not have a way to find a leak unless something really big came up,” Gafour said of leak detection prior to the installation of the radios, often referred to as “smart meters.”

Crews are now able to monitor water usage regularly and the system is set up to notify the city if any meter exceeds its normal daily usage by 30 percent, which would indicate a leak.

For larger issues, the city even makes house calls to notify resident.

“When we notice a big leak we will actually visit the site,” Gafour said.

Along with the leak detection, Gafour said the ability to accurately bill each customer each month is another positive change from the pre-radio meters.

In the past, water meters were read every two months so not only would leaks go longer without being noticed, sometimes water bills had to be estimated. Now, actual usage can be charged at the end of each month.

The total budget for the acquisition and deployment of the AMR system is $5 million, with about $2.4 Million for the purchase and installation of the system hardware, software, meter radios, fiber optic cables, site work, transmission towers and receivers and about $2.6 million for the purchase of meter bodies, registers, meter boxes and for the City’s operation and maintenance staff to install the radios and other meter upgrades  at the 17,500 meters.

Funding for the program comes from the Water Utility Capital Improvement Program budget, and the funds are mostly from revenues from water sales, according to Gafour.

In the end, Gafour expects the system to not only be more convenient for the city and the residents, but also hopes it will reduce city costs in terms of of staff and vehicle time, as well as allow the crews to do “more meaningful work” than just read meters.

“The program will pay for itself in time,” he said.

Residents with radios already installed on their meters can also check their up-to-date hourly water usage and history through the following website: http://rentonnet.org:8080/WaterUsage/Default.aspx

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