The Houston Board of Aldermen voted last week to advertise for bids for electronic water meters that could make reading the city’s 1,800 meters faster and hopefully more accurate.
The city has been repeatedly approached by vendors of the devices touting them as more accurate and efficient. Those companies have said changing the city’s old mechanical meters to the new computer versions could cost $350,000.
It normally takes 10 to 15 days for a meter-reader to manually read the city’s meter. That data then must be entered on city computers to calculate water usage and a bill.
New electronic meters would allow a city employee to drive a truck equipped with a reader down city streets to gather usage data. It has been projected that job could be completed in one to two days.
The quickness and ease of reading water usage can help the city determine peak water usage times and what parts of the community have special water usage needs. The instant reading can also help pinpoint leaks on both streets and private property.
Aldermen were approached last year by a vendor who said the new meters have a 20-year-warranty and he quoted an initial cost of approximately $360,000 for installation, materials, hardware and software. They stated the cost could be amortized and installation would take about three months.
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 three years including a complete mapping and survey of water mains and sewer lines, renovating the city water tower, installing new valves and pipe downtown and installing new sewer lines in north Houston last year.
Having customers approach the board with water bill concerns is a regular agenda item for the city.
The board has a policy of not changing water bills. The city does send someone out to double check a reading and will change a meter if the customer feels it is not reading correctly.
Two years ago Okolona residents were surprised when they got city water bills of $300 and $400 for one month after city employees had been miss-reading or not reading water meters there for some time.
Like Houston, Okolona aldermen are regularly approached by customers seeking answers for high water bills and wanting the city to reduce their bill.