Houston considers electronic water meters

By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal

HOUSTON – Changing old, mechanical city water meters to new electronic models could improve the accuracy of monthly water bills and save the city money, but it would cost the city more than $350,000 to make the switch.

The Houston Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently received the results of a test conducted by Empire Pipe, of Birmingham, Ala., showing the city could save money by providing more accurate water meter reading and reduce the time it takes to read meters from two weeks to one day.

“We came to you a year ago with a presentation and a study we just recently completed showed a 12 to 15 percent loss in reading accuracy using old meters,” said Turner Pilsch, of Empire Pipe. “Most of the old, mechanical models just wear out and with time don’t read accurately.”

Pilsch said a test of one industrial meter in Houston showed a large difference in the amount of water used after a new meter was installed. Aldermen have repeatedly been approached by residents, churches and businesses concerned their meter might not be reading correctly.

The city of Houston has roughly 1,800 meters to read each month and Pilsch said a job that normally takes 10 to 15 days to complete could be done in one day.

Pilsch said the new meters allow an almost instant re-read if a customer needs it and usage data is stored at the meter for five months.

“These meters have an electronic device inside that allows us to just drive by and the computer in that vehicle reads the meter,” said Pilsch. “You can find leaks quicker, you get a much more accurate reading and you can store this information electronically and use that data to determine peak water usage times and what parts of the community have special water use needs.”

The new meters have a 20-year-warranty and Pilsch said the initial cost of approximately $360,000 for installation, materials, hardware and software could be amortized. He said the installation would take about three months.

Alderman Barry Springer questioned the warranty and asked if there were other towns using this system.

Pilsch said the battery in the meter determines the warranty. He said Verona, Hamilton, Greenwood, Gulfport and Winona have all gone to electronic water meters.

Mayor Stacey Parker said he wanted to get hard numbers from the city water department on estimated water loss and how quickly the city might recoup their investment. He also said the city needed to look at how this infrastructure improvement would be financed and how it would affect the city’s budget.

The city has embarked on a number of water and sewer upgrades over the past two years including a complete mapping and survey of water mains and sewer lines this summer, renovating the city water tower this spring and installing new sewer lines in north Houston last winter.

The board took no action on the proposal.