High-tech water meter installations slated to begin next year

High-tech water meter installations slated to begin next year

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - City of Columbia water customers could see their water meter replaced with new advanced metering infrastructure starting next year.

At a council work session Tuesday, project managers from CH2M were on hand to present the budget and benefits of the project.

They expect the project will cost the City of Columbia close to $49 million to replace the city's more than 140,000 meters by the end of 2020. Consultants assure the city will see a high rate of return thanks to reduced adjustments due to leaks and high bills, an improved payment culture, reduced meter reading costs and the need for less field service representatives among others.

City leaders hope this will be the solution to helping the tens of thousands of customers they say call each year with questions and concerns about their water bills.

Several years ago, several cities adopted automatic meter reading or AMR. The technology simplified meter reading by allowing meter readers to drive by, collecting reads from their vehicles instead of getting out to check each home's box. The newest version of that technology simplifies the process even more.

The advanced metering infrastructure allows each meter to transmit real-time water readings to a collector like a cell phone tower. That information then transmits to the city where it can be accessed by the water department and customers. That allows the city to track real-time usage and leaks rather than collecting one read or one data point for every customer each month.

AMI technology is touted to improve customer service and reputation, operational efficiency, and social and environmental factors. New meters could include technology for customers like leak detection and high use alarms.

The automated network could also be used to make Columbia smarter overall.

The fixed network that allows meters to transmit information to collector towers could eventually be used to support smart street lighting, trash collection, and parking.

City leaders hope they explore those options and roll out several over the next 20 years.

The city hopes to see all meters replaced by AMI technology by the end of 2020.

Right now, project managers are working on selecting technology and installation firms. That could take anywhere from six to eight months. The next six months will be spent training and installing collectors before meter installation begins in 2018.

Meter installation could take 30 months with close to 6,000 meters installed each month.

The city plans to hold community meetings to explain and answer questions about the new technology ahead of implementation.

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