Wednesday, April 16, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rio Vista tackles water meters

water meters rio vista 11_27_13

Rio Vista Public Works maintenance worker Kelli Baroni manually checks a water meter in the Trilogy neighborhood in Rio Vista. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

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From page A3 | January 02, 2014 | Leave Comment

RIO VISTA — Determing whether raindrops are coming from the sky or the nearby sprinkler onto already-wet grass should be in the waning stages as California moves toward implementing a state law requiring water meters on all homes and businesses by 2025.

Some cities have made the move to the fixed-based smart meters, with readings from computer downloads. Others still have no meters, with residents on a flat-rate system. Still others have been in a debate for a relatively long period of time, resulting in a hodge podge of metering styles.

Rio Vista falls into the final category, with residents either on a flat-rate system without meters, with nonworking meters or with broken meters. A small percentage are on drive-by radio read, which allows meters to be read from city vehicles; and others are read as city staff walk the beat, opening up each meter box individually.

“It’s a mix of what (the) meters are, where they are and when they were installed,” said David Melilli, Rio Vista’s public works director.

To help the city find out what it has and where, it will contract for an independent audit that will determine the real costs associated with the meter project, such as the current meter inventory and a cost analysis. It will compare costs – including labor, equipment and longterm maintenance. It will compare the automatic drive-by system (Automatic Meter Readings or AMR) and fixed-based smart meter (Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI).

In going with an independent audit, the city will capture an unbiased snapshot of the meter situation, instead of one influenced by a contractor, said Thomas Jue, speaking on behalf of the city’s Water and Wastewater Monitoring Committee.

The audit is needed, Jue said, to determine what the problems are before the project goes out to bid.

Melilli said the audit will also “clearly define” the city’s approach to installing the water meters. It will help determine whether to install them all at once, which will allow them to age all at the same time but comes at a higher cost, or phase them in.

For years, various Rio Vista administrations attempted to determine the direction the city should go, with cost at the forefront of discussions due to the possible passage of Measure A in 2011 – which would have seen a sharp reduction in water/sewer rates – or the needed arsenic removal in a couple of the local wells.

While Measure A was defeated, the arsenic is still an issue. Even with the rising cost of materials associated with the arsenic filtration project, it is still the priority, Jue said.

Dealing with rising costs to fix the elevated levels of arsenic in the wells has confounded the issue of paying for the meters – estimated to cost between $2 million and $4 million, according to a water/wastewater committee report. It also sparked discussion on whether to go with the top of the line or something not quite as new, bright and shiny such as the already established drive-by readers. Also at issue is  how to pay for whatever meter system is chosen.

“If we’re really going to make this work and relieve the finance department . . . the best way to go is AMI,” Melilli said. “The fallback is the AMR.”

Jue and Greg Malcolm, the city’s public works superintendent, agreed. Jue said the primary reason is “this is where the industry is heading.” Along with that fact, he added that this method allows the city to “fully capture” lost revenues in that it has abilities to detect water leaks and determine such things as whether a customer has left their water on all day.

“All of this is built into the system,” he said.

The fixed-base system will allow the city and customers to pick up the information daily online. It would also take Malcolm’s staff off the street, allowing them to do other jobs.

“I would love it,” Malcolm said. “We’d still have repairs to do, but we’d be completely out of the meter reading business, manually anyway, which would be great.”

The radio read drive-by system collects information via a laptop as city employees drive by the meters. The information is then downloaded to the city’s finance department. Malcolm estimates about 700 Rio Vista meters currently are radio reads.

With the state’s Water Conservation Act of 2009 – dubbed 20×2020 – looming, Malcolm is also looking at water conservation. The conservation plan calls for a 20 percent drop in state urban water usage by 2020.

“The customer can control the usage,” he said. “It’s right in front of them.

“If a customer can say, ‘hey, I’m using this much water’ . . . people are more accepting. Water conservation is something I’m hoping and pushing. That’s another area where we need to progress.”

The meter road will be dictated by the audit’s outcome. It is in the request for proposal stage.

Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or swinlow@dailyrepublic.net. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.

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