HOUSTON – The city has taken a second step toward a major infrastructure upgrade that could see approximately 1,800 water meters installed and an overhaul of a city water well.
The city met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week as part of a public hearing to explain the purchase of electronic water meters to replace the city’s aging mechanical meters and make reading residential water bills more efficient and improve accuracy.
The meter upgrade has an estimated price tag of $400,000. The cost to repair and improve the city’s Washington Street well could be $80,000 to $100,000.
“These are not the glamorous city projects like roads or parks,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker. “This board is laying the foundation for development that will benefit this community down the road.”
The Dec. 10 meeting with USDA was to discuss financing for the project and to gather public input. Under the federal proposal the city is seeking a 45/55 matching grant with the city to pay 55-percent and the USDA paying 45-percent.
Aldermen have been discussing this project since October and the city has received a bid of $390,000 from Empire Pipe to sell and install the meters.
Aldermen have not voted to proceed on either of these projects.
“At this point we have applied for this money,” said Parker. “We looked at paying for the project outright with a bond and decided to work through USDA, try to get this grant, and leverage our money.”
The city plans to pay its portion of the grant through the sale of water to city customers. Houston’s municipal water corporation is a major revenue stream for the city. Houston pumps approximately one million gallons to city customers a month and that raises approximately $37,000. City leaders have repeatedly said they expect water bills to go up when the new meters go on-line as the city gets a more accurate reading.
The new electronic meters can read down to the quart, where the older meters – especially for industrial clients, schools and churches – can be off thousands of gallons a month.
Aldermen are regularly approached by residential customers who feel their bill is incorrect and asking for relief. The city has a policy of not reducing correctly read water bills and this has repeatedly infuriated city water customers.
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 two days. It normally takes 10 to 15 days for a meter-reader to manually read the city’s meter and that data then must be entered on city computers to calculate water usage and a bill.
Aldermen were approached last year by a vendor who said the new meters have a 20-year-warranty and installation would take about three months.
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.
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.