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Hot Springs Village Looking to the Future on Water Meters

Jason Temple, Hot Springs Village Director of Public Services, gave a presentation to the Board Directors at the January 5, 2022 Board Discussion Session. Temple’s presentation addressed the purchase of water meters which are needed to replace both malfunctioning meters and installs at new homes and businesses. Mr. Temple also informed the Board that an upgrade in meter reading equipment is needed due to current equipment no longer being technically supported by the manufacturer. Parts are also no longer available for the repair of the meter-reading equipment that the Village currently uses.

Additionally, Temple also talked about the gradual change to a more automated meter system, which would require the replacement of Village water meters. Drive-by or internet meter reading is going to be gradually phased into water service operations. Eventually, all HSV meters will have the capability to be read using a more modern system.

As this was not a regular Board Meeting, no vote was taken. Temple said this purchase of equipment will be up for approval at the next Board Meeting. (Note: at this time, this is not a proposal for replacement of ALL Village water meters.)

Temple read the memo:

Discussion

Temple: “Board authorization is required for staff to purchase multiple sizes of meters and meter reading equipment for new installs and replacement from Henard Utilities, not to exceed the total 2022 budgeted amount of $100,000.”

Background

Temple: “Beginning this year in 2022, our current hand-held device used for manually reading our water meters on a bi-monthly basis will no longer have tech support, nor are replaceable, thus requiring our staff to purchase new meter reading method and technology.”

Temple: “The Public Services Committee and staff have been conducting a study of different smart water meters and meter reading systems for over the past three years. During this study period, the metering staff tested six different meter providers and types. These are all national, well-known brands”…which include “Sensus Meters, Neptune, Kamstrup, Badger, Diehl, and Mueller, to include drive-by radio read, tower-based radio read, and cellular read ultrasonic water meters.”

Temple: “The study evaluated each meter provider for quality of customer service, (which is very important), tech support, meter performance, meter reading equipment, and software that will work with HSV’s billing system.”

Temple: “We sent out a request several months ago, requesting information and cost proposals. So, it was an RFI and RFP kind of combined information that we sent out.”

Temple: “We solicited from four pre-qualified vendors for unit pricing for phased appointments over time, as well as a possible future full-scale deployment throughout the Village. Price comparisons are shown below for cellular and drive-by radio-read smart meters and I included their pricing between Badger, Kamstrup, Neptune Cell, Neptune Drive-by, and Sensus Drive-by.”

Temple: “Meter prices in the smart meters range anywhere from, I guess in the average residential size, from, the lowest was $240 to $276. And that could be the type of meter that when you drive by, you have a radio device and you read that water meter while you are in your vehicle or that meter can send a signal to a cell tower that goes to the internet and we just download that data. Or the customer can see what their water meter is doing at that time.”

Temple: “Based on the performance parameters of the evaluation, staff, with committee input have selected the Cellular-read Ultrasonic Smart Meter made by the Badger Meter Company for us to move forward with.”

Temple: “These smart meters are widely used in Arkansas. They are more accurate than our typical meter; will notify a Property Owner whenever there is a leak in their pipes and many other things.”

Temple: “HSV staff will be deploying these meters at all existing commercial, new home, and existing malfunctioning meter replacements in 2022, and using computer notebooks with Badger Meter Reading Software to read all of the remaining HSV manual-read water meters for future billing.”

Temple: “We are kind of in a mix of two technologies. We have all of these manually-read water meters throughout the Village and we’re going to slowly transition to meters that will send their meter reading to the internet on a 15-minute basis. These meters are the way of the future. They are more accurate. They provide a tremendous amount of service to our customers and we’re going to be focused on the $100,000 that we have budgeted for 2022. We’re going to be focused on the commercial customers, all the POA facilities, all the commercial business, the large water users and get those folks all covered. All the new homes will have the new water meters in and [also] any meter that malfunctions throughout the year that has to be replaced.”

Temple: “We’re going to have a slow deployment for the next year or two until someday when we feel like we might need to go to monthly billing or if we want to go system-wide…we can do that at any time and we’ll already have the right meter in place and the right system for reading those meters and to do our billing already in place whenever the POA wants to go down that route. And it’s going to be great. We’re really looking forward to going down this route for some time and it’s going to be very slow here at first but it will provide tremendous service.”

Temple: “A lot of these commercial facilities, even at the POA facilities, we have leaks all the time – the DeSoto Club, for example, has a lot of buried copper piping and it is pitting and you don’t know there’s a leak for a while. Greg Jones, who operates that facility has a tremendous water bill that has to be forgiven or written off. [Subsequent to this discussion session, Mr. Jones is no longer operating this facility. Click here to read Mr. Jones’ letter to the community.] This type of meter gives us that early detection before the water usage gets way out of hand because we [currently] only read the meters every two months. So every two months is the soonest sometimes we can tell if there is a leak in a person’s home. So this provides a tremendous service to the customer by nipping our water losses and the leaks in the bud as well as helping ourselves.”

Board Questions/Discussion

Can Villagers Buy These Ahead of Scheduled Replacement?

Vice-chair Tucker Omohundro: “We’ve talked about this a while. My house is three years old, so I assume I have a nice new water meter (3 years old). Am I ten years from getting the [new-style] meter like this or what?”

Temple: “Maybe.”

Omohundro: “What if I write you a check?”

Temple: “Yeah. We can do those things, too. We really don’t have…”

Omohundro: “Why don’t we offer that to the Village?”

Temple: “I like that. But…”

Omohundro: “My water bill last month at one of my buildings was $2,750.00. I’ll buy a meter for $275 so that doesn’t happen again.”

Temple: “We’ll be glad to…”

Omohundro: “And I have a feeling there are a lot of Villagers that would love to do the same thing because if you get one water leak…”

Temple: “It pays for itself.”

Omohundro: “You know you thought you had one the other day.”

Avila: “Yeah.”

Omohundro: “One water leak will pay for that meter.”

John Paul, Interim General Manager: “Jason was explaining this the other day and on the new water meter, it will alert you if there is a leak; if there’s a change in your water usage, it will alert you. Where I am going with this is I think Tucker is right, I think there is a market out there for people that are gone for three months or whatever, that might want to buy their own meter – that it’s going to take us six years to get there to replace it. I think he is right; they would. And I think we need to look into that.”

Omohundro: “And I think we need to offer for those that want it, a ten-month, twelve-month payout, whatever. Ten dollars a month or whatever, if they don’t want to pay the initial $300 or whatever it may be and hopefully we can do it by just charging for the meter and not labor to put it in.”

Temple: “We’d be glad to do that, especially if we are doing slow deployments. In a year or two, we may decide to go system-wide, as Bella Vista did and Russelville.”

Omohundro: “It will cost millions of dollars to do that.”

It’s Called a Smart Meter For a Good Reason

Temple: “It does cost, but it does provide a lot of services. It provides…there is a whole business plan behind that. In a lot of cases, it pays for itself, if you finance it. But for now, we’re just talking about how we’re going to move forward with the new way we are going to read our water meters manually with this new technology, as well as putting in new meters. Any meter we replace in the future will have this technology and what’s cool about it – they call it a smart meter for a good reason. It actually monitors your usage and you have a common trend and if you get off that trend or they see a leak that’s out of the ordinary, it could just be as small as a drip out of a faucet…”

Pam Avila, Board Director: “Or a toilet.”

Temple: “It will send you a text message. It will call you if you have it…You can set this up online yourself with your own account and you can watch. It will contact and call you and call us and we’ll call you and get this leak nipped in the bud so you can fix this very quickly…You will also be able to watch online your own water usage. If you are away from home and left the water on at your house, you can get online and see [whether there is a water leak].” If there is a leak, the POA can turn the water off at the meter, until you return. “It is a huge service improvement, especially for folks who are going away for the winter or accidentally leave their water on in their house during a freeze and the pipes break.”

Omohundro: “You can have a flapper in your toilet leaking for two months and you don’t even know it.”

Avila: “I know. I know.”

Omohundro: “And you just bought the meter.” [The meter would pay for itself.}

Temple: “Yes, you are right.”

Omohundro: “Or, you actually bought two.”

Temple: “It is the kind of service I think our POA customers would really appreciate and enjoy. We have $100,000 budgeted for next year and what this memo tells you, this is the company we are going to be going down the road with. It is kind of proprietary in some sense. You have to decide on a standard meter. There is a computer operating system that goes along with that and that meter is good for 20 years. It has a 10-year warranty on the battery and a 15-year warranty on the meter. Anything happens to it, it is a free replacement, up to that point. After that time frame, it is prorated. Very high quality. That is just a decision that we are wanting to go down; it is a 20-year meter.”

Does This New System Involve an App?

Director Gary Belair: “Does that involve an app that is available?”

Temple: “Yes.”

Belair: “Or do you have to look…”

Temple: “Yes, you can monitor your water usage on your cell phone or your computer and you’ll have your own account. That is what they call a “customer portal” and for everyone who gets those meters, we will be conducting that type of set-up and orientation for those folks.”

Purchase of Smart Meter Could Turn Out to be a Money Saver

Avila: “You know especially for those that live on the west side of the Village, where the pipes have been in there longer and where the tree roots are now getting in there and messing up the pipes and people are having to replace their water lines and so on, as Tucker noted, buying one of these water meters could be a really valuable thing for them to do.”

Temple: “That is very true. I remember Bob Cunningham, we were using one of his locations as a test and somewhere between that meter and his house, there was a tiny, tiny leak in the service line and they knew it was there, but it was very hard to find, it was so small. And when they finally found it. It was – it was there and they fixed it. That service line between the meter and the house could be old; it could be copper; it could be an old plastic pipe and it’s very easy for those things to start leaking. And you might not even know about it because it is just buried in the ground and it is just slowly seeping in the ground and you won’t even know unless your meter is barely turning. This thing will pick up a fraction of a teardrop flow rate. That’s how accurate these meters are.”

Paul: “We are looking into putting a program together, Tucker, for purchases before we roll this out.”

Omohundro: “It will benefit us from the labor of having to read them if people buy them.”

Corry: “Jason, you said something about there was a memo on this. Am I missing that? Where is the fact sheet?”

Temple: “I sent it late last night to Katrina. I apologize for the lateness. I definitely wanted to get it into the discussion so that we can have a chance to approve it at the next Board meeting.”

Corry said they need the fact sheet at the time of the discussion. Temple agreed.

Recent Replacements of Malfunctioning Meters are Compatible with the Automated Badger Meter System

Coreena Fetterhoff, Controller, and Board Treasurer: “I would like to add to that. They have been replacing meters on a meter replacement process every year and with them testing out different ones to find what is ideal for going for the future, they are already going with the Badger brand. This is just an add-on piece to the pump that they are already getting. So they are already deploying these.”

Corry: “Okay.”

Fetterhoff: “They are coming to the board to do a purchase order for the entire year, that way we can keep track of it better. It is something that they’ve already slowly been working on.”

Click here to read an interesting article titled, ” Smart Water Meters Overcome Mountainous Challenge at Bella Vista Property Owners Association.”

By Cheryl Dowden, January 10, 2022

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