‘Smart’ water meters could be in Elkton’s future
— A solution to the town’s longtime water billing woes may be on the horizon as officials discussed the possibility of switching town water meters to new, high-tech “smart meters” on Wednesday.
Elkton town officials have said for years that aging water meters throughout town are often unreliable, with some underreporting usage for properties. So they discussed a possible upgrade plan with representatives from the town’s contracted engineer firm, KCI Technologies, in order to determine options to improve accuracy in billings.
Automatic meter-reader systems, which would transmit meter data to a technician driving by, could be installed on existing meters, said Tim Wolfe, a KCI engineer. The town could also choose an advanced metering infrastructure system, which would do the same job of its less-advanced version but also provide in-depth data such as water trends, leaks and pressure zones. That option would require more costly infrastructure upgrades though, Wolfe said.
Both systems would reduce labor costs, keep more data on usage, and increase accountability as far as catching leaks or reading issues, he added.
“The key is you get the data, but you have to manage your data,” Wolfe said.
J. Ryan Flickinger, also an engineer with KCI, said there are several ways signals can be transmitted — radio signal, cell signal, internet signal and satellite signal — and each have pros and cons. If the town chooses a cell signal, however, officials may be stuck with a two-year provider contract and dead spots could be another potential issue, he said.
“There’s a lot to keep in mind,” Flickinger said.
Flickinger also said if the town chooses a radio signal, it would have to choose a radio frequency specific to the transmitter signal, to make sure no signals overlap.
Mayor Rob Alt noted that there are challenges for the town with the existing water meters. Time and money is wasted on manpower from the Department of Public Works every quarter posting shutoff notices and then physically turning off and on water service for delinquent customers, he added.
Dan Handley, director of the department of public works, explained that contractor Severn Trent, which runs the town’s water and wastewater operations, currently performs the water meter readings, but DPW is in charge of fixing issues with the meters. Alt said if the Town Board of Commissioners does choose to go through with the upgrades, the plan could take five to seven years to switch the 6,500 water meters in town.
Commissioner Earl Piner asked the engineers whether grants or funding could help the town defray that potential cost. Flickinger recommended the commissioners look at grants geared toward conservation of water and energy.
Commissioner Charles Givens asked about the maintenance requirements of the “smart meter” equipment, but was reassured by Wolfe that other than changing the battery in the transmitter, it is low maintenance.