Houston to install auto-read meters

CITY OF HOUSTON FLAGHOUSTON – Aldermen went to the well and approved a bid of over $400,000 for new electronic water meters and installation that will go online next year.

Aldermen have studied replacing the city’s 1,800 aging meters with new auto-read meters for more than a year and accepted a bid from Empire Pipe earlier this month.

The city will pay $396,000 for the meters and computer system to read them and approximately $61,000 for installation.

Vendors with Empire told the board that new EPA regulations would make the cost of copper and brass go up in 2014 and urged the board to act now. The city has been told the new meters will allow one person to drive a computer equipped truck down city streets and read all meters in one day.

The city has been repeatedly approached by vendors of the devices touting them as more accurate and efficient. Vendors have also warned the city that customers will probably see water bills go up with the more accurate reading.

Aldermen are looking for more accurate readings and lower personnel costs.

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.

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, West Point, Greenwood, Gulfport and Winona have all gone to electronic water meters.

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 and 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 there had been miss-reading or not reading water meter 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.

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