La Porte is one of the oldest cities in the region, with a history stretching back to the 1800’s. The city’s soon to be 150-year-old water department, often called the Water Works, is launching a huge campaign to bring a major upgrade to the community’s water system – installing smart water meters in homes. By the end of July, approximately 1,200 of the new meters have been installed.
Most people are familiar with the old-school method of checking water consumption; the meter checker meanders through neighborhoods and manually notes the tally on every meter. The old system is now obsolete and needs to be replaced. The new smart meters solve those issues utilizing a radio transmitter to replace the display on the outside of the house, streamlining the process. By sending usage data on a daily basis, the new system can lead to savings on La Porte residents’ utility bills when a leak or problem occurs within the home plumbing system.
“We want to get the word out that this is a good project, not only for us, but for our customers in the long run,” said Todd Taylor, Director of City of La Porte Water Works. "There have been and will be a few hiccups along the way, but our goal is always to be fair and accurate for our customers."
Some of the meters currently in homes are beyond the ideal life cycle, and no longer accurately accurately measure all of the water consumption. With the new smart meters, the city can detect abnormal water usage, often caused by faulty plumbing or other annoyingly common issues, and alert homeowners of the problem. Due to the increased accuracy of the new meters, bills for some customers may increase, but ongoing leaks or problems can be addressed sooner rather than later.
“Right now, when we read your meters, we only get usage data on a monthly basis, and during that time you could have a toilet leak develop without you noticing, and it’ll raise your bill,” Taylor said. “This new system is smart enough to see the customer’s usage, like an abnormal constant leak in the middle of the night, and it will send an automatic notification to our meter supervisors, who then can contact the customer and let them know.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one trillion gallons of water are wasted annually by water leaks across the country. In the city of Fountain Valley, California, an upgrade to the same system La Porte is installing led to detecting roughly 35 small leaks a month and nearly 10 larger leaks per week. That is a lot of wasted water and, perhaps more importantly to some customers, wasted money—but thanks to the system’s responsiveness, that water waste can be detected and kept to a minimum. The accuracy of these meters ensures that customers pay for the exact amount of water used, and also detect meter tampering.
The new meters automatically send data to the City, without the need for a manual check of the meters. This means increased efficiency for the city, which means that ratepayer dollars can be applied to other interesting and needed projects for the citizens of La Porte. The City can also process customers' move-ins and move-outs by querying the meter for a reading on the day of the transition without rolling an employee in a truck to obtain a meter reading. Another plus: the meters have no wearing parts, so they will remain accurate for at least 20 years.
“It’s good for the customers because efficiency by us means that we can do better things with the bills they pay,” Taylor said. “We have some of the lowest costs for water in the state, so we take every dime we get and reinvest it.”
The new meters are more accurate and regularly send usage data to the city, but the goal is not to tell residents what they can or cannot do with their water. Simply put, the data helps the Water Works help customers by reinvesting into a reliable water system.
“We don’t tell our customers how to use water,” Taylor said. “We just want to accurately measure it because that helps everybody.”
The City of La Porte is partnering with global energy solutions giant Schneider Electric and trusted meter experts Utility Metering Solutions to install the new meters inside La Porte homes. Customers will get a notice in the mail with directions on how to schedule the replacement for their meter, which can be done by contacting the UMS call center or website. If the customer is a renter and does not have access to the location of the meter, they need only forward the notice to their landlord.