Victoria to install automated water meters

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

March 4, 2012 at 11:02 p.m.
Updated March 4, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.

Victoria City Council is expected to move forward Tuesday with an update to the way the city collects water usage data.

For years, a team of public works employees has manually read thousands of water meters daily across town. This project, which calls for installing automated meter readers, would streamline the process and provide more accurate figures, said Lynn Short, public works director.

The council will hear second and third readings Tuesday of an ordinance addressing the project's estimated $8.3 million bill by transferring $2 million to the Water Wastewater Fund Water Department from the Water Wastewater Fund.

This is an update years in the making.

"I'm excited to be able to get new technology that will improve our ability to serve our customers better while reducing costs," Short said. "It's rare that you get a project that will basically pay for itself."

If the council moves forward with the project, the city would sign contracts in late-March and could have the system installed and fully operational by the end of the year, Short said.

Although glitches plagued early-adopters of automated readers, Short said, he is confident this particular technology is perfected.

Instead of sending readers to physically check each meter in the city, this technology takes multiple readings a day and transmits that information to the utility office. However, meter readers will not lose their jobs with the city, Short said. When the new system is installed, those employees will be transferred to other positions within the department.

The increased accuracy combined with bond funds will finance the rest of the update without requiring rate hikes, Short said.

The new meters present potential for flexibility in billing cycles, although the city has not made a decision about that, Short said. Another benefit is leak detection, which could cost customers money, Short said.

"We've been trying to move toward on this for a number of years and basically have been waiting on a tried and true system that will accomplish what we want to accomplish," Short said. "Basically, we're there. It is the wave of the future, we're not going to be the first ones to install them. There are a lot of system out there working very well."

Councilman Tom Halepaska said he thinks it will be an all-around positive change in the city.

"You cut down on a manpower, but you also get an extremely higher accuracy and you have the ability to access it from your home computer so you can get real-time information," he said. "It's bringing Victoria into the 21st Century through one more item."

He said he thinks the technology is has been tested enough, now is the best time for Victoria to invest in it.

The first generation still required someone to physically check each meter. The second generation was automated, but required setting up towers similar to cell phone towers, he said. This latest generation is faster, more accurate and more efficient, Halepaska said.

"The public may not know how inaccurate the old water meters were," he said. "They're projecting some huge savings because of the accuracy alone."



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