A smart water meter system would save Fountain Valley money and staff time, officials said.
However, they add, some rate-payers might get a shock when the new, more accurate readings show some customers should be paying more.
On Monday night, the Fountain Valley Department of Public Works recommended the City Council replace its water use monitoring equipment with a smart water meter system.
To see the Powerpoint presentation from the study session, click the pdf under the image on the right.
At the study session, staff discussed the results of a pilot program that showed three different brands of smart meter systems had outperformed the city's equipment.
City staff said they hope to bring a recommended smart meter system to the council for a vote within a year.
According to staff, a smart meter system would wirelessly link a central monitoring hub to every meter in the city, allowing staff to check usage levels from a distance, without the need for meter readers to manually check readings.
Currently, the city’s two meter readers check meters about 102,000 times each year, inspecting the cities more than 17,000 accounts at homes, business and agricultural areas, according to Jorge Garcia, Fountain Valley Public Works Department management analyst.
“There’s got to be a better way,” said Jorge Garcia, city management analyst.
According to Garcia, the results of a 7-month pilot program at Los Caballeros Condominium Complex were promising.
Starting in February 2012, the program installed 124 smart meters from three different companies -- Neptune Technology, Sensus and Mueller Systems -- at the location.
Staff checked the smart meter readings and read the meters the traditional way, as well.
The results? 11 out of 12 of the old meters showed inaccurate readings, compared with the new meters which, staff said, were much more accurate.
According to officials, when it comes to water meters, inaccuracy goes in the customer’s favor: The meters can only slow down, not speed up.
“They're reading lower than what they actually are,” said Councilman Steven Nagel during the session.
If the city installed a new system, Nagel said, some customers might be surprised when they see that the more accurate readings show they should be paying more. He said that if the city doesn’t have proper readings, it is, in effect, “subsidizing” some of the rate payers.
According to Garcia, a third-party organization certified the city’s testing process during the pilot program and concluded that all three systems worked well.
The three proposed systems also have the ability to detect leaks in city lines, and send emails or text alerts to people if something seems not quite right in a water bill. The new system might also make it possible for residents to be billed weekly or monthly, instead of the current every-two-months system.
Depending on how the system is set up, customers might also have the ability to check their daily water usage online.
“It really is an amazing tool for customers,” said Councilwoman Cheryl Brothers. “If they want to be cluing in every day they can."
Staff estimates the total cost over 20 years would be $6.5 million, and they recommend the city issue a bond to pay for it and other water infrastructure projects.
The average cost to pay off the bond debt over a 20-year period would be $424,000 per year, which, according to Garcia, would be only a $13,000 more than what is currently budgeted for regular meter replacement, which currently pays for about 1,200 meters a year.
According to Garcia, the benefits of the program would be realized within two years, and they hope to submit a system proposal for a vote of the council within a year.