‘Smart’ wa­ter me­ters could be in Elkton’s fu­ture

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By BRI­ANNA SHEA



— 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.

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