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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, March 6, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Digital meter reading coming to Austin Water
Austin Water is preparing to roll out digital water meters that will allow the utility, as well as individual customers, to see how much water each customer is using every hour. Ultimately, every single one of the utility’s 240,000 meters will be replaced by a new meter that can broadcast a digital signal, according to utility Director Greg Meszaros.
Meszaros told the Austin Monitor that the utility tries to keep up with technology and has been working on this change for more than three years. “This is part of our Water Forward Plan to modernize all our meter technologies and give both the utility and the customer better real-time tools to see how much water they’re using, hour to hour, day to day. Right now, you only get one data point a month – your bill – and so it’s hard to take action.”
With the new system, customers will be able to access information about their water use through use of a cell phone app or on the internet. In addition, customers will be able to set up an alert on their phones so they will be notified if there is unexpected water use. “It will give customers a lot more tools so they can see and understand their water use,” he concluded.
The meters are expected to last 15-20 years and will run on batteries, which Meszaros predicted would last for 10-15 years.
City Council has already approved negotiation of a contract with Aclara Technologies, and the Austin Water Oversight Committee voted to recommend final approval of the contract at its meeting Thursday. Meszaros expects the contract to be on Council’s March 26 agenda.
He stressed that customers’ bills will not go up as a result of the technology.
Meszaros said one major advantage of the new system is early leak detection. The utility will be able to check to see whether any neighborhood or particular customer is using an unusual amount of water. That could indicate an underground leak that would not otherwise be apparent, he said. Leaks have been a big problem for the utility in recent years.
Council Member Paige Ellis, who chairs the committee, said she was glad to see the utility adopting the innovative technology in a way that will aid water conservation.
Assistant Director Rick Coronado said the new system will require three separate contracts, including data management and network maintenance over a 10-year period for about $95 million.
Coronado also told the committee the utility was pleased that Aclara had well exceeded Austin Water’s goals for minority participation, with 32 percent participation by a woman-owned business and 18.4 percent participation by a minority business enterprise.
In order to make sure that the system will work as well in Austin as it does in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the utility plans to do a pilot program with about 5,000 customers in different neighborhoods, terrain and density, Meszaros explained.
Currently, Austin Water uses an outside contractor to check customers’ meters each month. After the new digital system has been operating for a while, Meszaros said the utility would no longer need that service. Council Member Leslie Pool expressed concern about the lost jobs, but Meszaros told her that the utility has 110 vacancies this month and every month. Some of Austin Water’s current employees will be retrained to do different jobs when the digital system is up and running, he said.
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