Non-revenue water is an issue for water utilities around the country, and many states require water suppliers to keep leakage below a certain threshold. This level of accountability, along with customer demands to provide real-time usage information and data, is prompting utilities to explore new options to replace aging infrastructure. When the City of Monroe, Washington Public Works was faced with choosing to simply replace their drive-by meters or invest in an Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system, they considered both short- and long-term value and returns, ultimately settling on an option that gave them and their customers greater knowledge and more power—saving time, money, and water.
CITY OF MONROE, WASHINGTON PUBLIC WORKS
Monroe, WA, is 30 miles northeast of Seattle with a population of approximately 18,090. The Public Works department is responsible for managing, maintaining, and providing service for Monroe’s drinking water, garbage and recycling, sanitary sewer, stormwater, streets, and the wastewater treatment plant.
Monroe’s drive-by radio-read Sensus MXUs were installed in the early 2000s. As the years passed, technology advanced and residents began to expect more from their utility service providers. As well, the aging infrastructure resulted in measuring inaccuracies.
The City of Monroe Public Works determined that the most cost-effective way to upgrade their meter infrastructure was to install an AMI system which would help them realize long-term savings.
“Our old meters were at the end of their useful service life, and we considered simply replacing them with new manual-read meters,” says City of Monroe Public Works director Jakeh Roberts. “We began costing out both manual-read meters and an AMI system. Despite the fact that AMI would cost us more upfront after we spoke to our billing and customer service teams, we knew our customers would benefit most from the newer technology.”
They chose an AMI system and installation services provided by Ferguson Waterworks.
The City of Monroe had challenges that needed to be addressed with the right AMI system:
- Aging infrastructure. Monroe’s meter system was 10 to 15 years old, nearing the end of its useful life, and reading accuracy was steadily declining.
- Limited meter reading resources. A full-time equivalent employee was required to read meters over the course of five to six days. Illness and weather could affect their ability to complete reads safely and on-time.
- Vehicle and fuel costs. The cost to maintain and fuel the vehicles used to read meters continued to rise.
- Lost revenue. Approximately 8% of Monroe’s water was unaccounted for due to failed leak detection, resulting in lost revenue. In addition, the Washington State Municipal Water Law requires water suppliers to maintain their distribution system leakage at or below 10% of production.
Ferguson proposed the Sensus Fixed Base FlexNet AMI solution to address the City of Monroe’s needs. The Sensus FlexNet system is a long-range radio network that serves as a dedicated and secure two-way communications highway for utilities. Using FlexNet technology, the City of Monroe Public Works can collect and access real-time data from various smart sensors.
“The City took a hard look at the options that were available to meet our system-specific needs,” says Roberts. “We determined that Ferguson’s offering provided the type of technology that would work best in our service area by providing the highest level of reliability and support at the best price.”
The benefits of the recommended AMI solution include:
- Automatic meter reading, allowing the City of Monroe Public Works to re-allocate their meter reading employee to other services.
- Guaranteed 98.5% meter reads.
- Programmable leak detection feature built into every radio that would detect leaks previously missed by the aging meter system. It can detect and report on backflow, broken pipe, zero consumption, register malfunction and other issues.
- Multiple transmit modes and separate frequency channels for each type of message (inbound, outbound, alarm, etc.), which increases overall system performance, reliability, and capacity. The regional network interface (RNI) has the capacity to store 24 months of standard hourly data for all meters on the network.
- A reading interval of one reading per hour. The MIUs transmit the hourly reading history up to six times per day. Each transmission contains up to seven days of hourly reading history.
- Users can directly poll MIUs over the two-way network for real-time reading.
- Sensus already held FCC licensed spectrum primary use of all the necessary frequencies for the City of Monroe and required fewer data collectors than other systems.
“The FlexNet system matches the functionality, reliability, flexibility, and simplicity the City of Monroe required in an AMI solution,” says Ferguson outside sales associate Tom Erickson. “The network monitoring, system maintenance, and upgrades ensure that the system will operate at optimal performance levels throughout its useful life.”
Monroe saw increased efficiencies with their new metering technology, saving time and money for both the customer and the City itself.
- Provides better customer service with early leak detection, saving customers money they lose from wasted water. The technology upgrade identified dozens of continuous leaks.
- Shares data with customers and provides enhanced customer service by utilizing real-time meter reading information.
City of Monroe Public Works
- Saves staff time, vehicle travel costs, and gas expenses by eliminating the need for manual meter reading. Meter reading now requires less than two days, and City of Monroe Public Works was able to re-allocate its meter reading employee to other service areas as all meter reading is now automatic.
- City of Monroe’s unaccounted water went from 8% down to 2%, increasing supply revenue. It is also well below the 10% leakage standard required by Washington State.
- Eliminates all costs associated with closing customer accounts.
- The Sensus FlexNet achieved a 99.59% read interval success rate—higher than the Sensus guarantee of 98.5%. This means that the data from almost all of the meters in the city is automatically reported on time each billing cycle.
Ferguson’s installation team, consisting of seven service technicians, installed the new AMI system from May 2016 through December 2016. The project started with changing out the city’s residential and commercial accounts with meters in sizes from five-eighths by three-fourths inch up to 2 inches. Toward the end of the project, the City added the larger accounts, 3 inches and up. Ferguson’s installation team worked closely with City of Monroe’s service technicians to remove the old, larger meters and helped locate and schedule the accounts to be upgraded.
“We teamed up with the Ferguson installation group to ensure meter connection points that weren’t up to City standards prior to the project were corrected by Public Works staff in preparation for the meter swap,” says Roberts. “This coordination made the project go much more smoothly. Having the Ferguson crew onsite made a substantial difference in the overall timeliness of the project delivery.”
“Communication between the City of Monroe and Ferguson was fantastic and a key reason this project went so well,” explains Ferguson meter installation business development manager Lynnsey Bondi. “All challenges were quickly communicated between us and the City, resulting in swift resolutions and on-time installation.”
for the installation process and system configuration.
Ferguson provided project coordination services for the installation process and system configuration between Sensus, Springbrook Software, and the City of Monroe Public Works and finance department staff. Coordination services included integration file field mapping, testing, and providing customer instruction on properly operating and managing the system. Ferguson’s proprietary work order management system automated the data transfer process by matching old and new meter numbers, documenting GIS coordinates and taking photographs of newly installed meters so that the City of Monroe was up and running on the new system and able to bill and provide data back to customers quickly and accurately. Ferguson’s work order management system ultimately saved City of Monroe hundreds of hours of labor manually entering integration data for more than 6,000 customer accounts.
Ferguson is also providing ongoing support, helping to troubleshoot and resolve base station and transmitter issues.Soon after the upgrade, the City of Monroe Public Works received a leak flag on a residential customer’s account. The City reached out to the customer who initially was unable to locate the source of the leak. With help from Ferguson, the City of Monroe Public Works shared water usage data that reflected a pattern over a specific timeframe, clearly illustrating the presence of a leak during irrigation hours. The customer also discovered and resolved two other previously undetected leaks.