ROCKINGHAM — The countywide project to update existing water meters that sparked controversy last month when it was blamed for a spike in water bills has saved the county $1.8 million, according to County Manager Bryan Land.
The project was budgeted for about $5.1 million dollars but is now projected to come in at $3.3 million. Land said the county saved money by doing much of the work on the project “in-house.”
“There was a tremendous amount of sweat equity that went into this project by our employees,” he said in an email. “All employees that were involved in the (automated meter infrastructure) project deserve a huge pat on the back.”
County meter technicians, water administration and water maintenance department employees did repairs to and replacements of meter boxes, installed residential and commercial meters, prepared new lids for transmitter installation and repaired and replaced other outdated materials to cut costs on hiring outside contractors.
The new meters, approved for purchase in 2014, will provide county administrators with automatic notifications of leaks 24 hours a day and more accurate data on the location of the leaks, as well as eliminate the longer billing periods that would result from county employees having to go out to the residences to manually read the meters each month, according to Public Works Director Jerry Austin.
“This increased accuracy allows for the detection of leaks that previously went unnoticed and ensures our customers are properly billed for the water that flows through their meter,” Austin said in an email. “Having the ability to proactively detect leaks and notify customers of the leak not only limits the extent of the customer’s leak, it also helps to conserve water by allowing leaks to be repaired significantly sooner.”
The project transitioned 7,500 residential water customers, and is in the process of transitioning 100 commercial customers, from analog to the new digital meters. The residential portion was completed on Dec. 15 and the commercial portion is about 50 percent complete, according to Austin.
The controversy over the water bills in December stemmed from a one-time extended billing period to make up for the installation period, which would then level off on either the first or second month after the new meter was in place, depending on when the meter was installed. Residents also could have experienced higher bills because the new meters are more sensitive, providing a more accurate reading.
The most common meter for residential customers, the ¾-inch diameter meter, will measure flow as low as 0.03 gallons per minute and up to 55 gallons per minute, according to Austin.