AMR solution improves accountability, accuracy, efficiency for Galveston

By switching from an aging touch-type metering system to an AMR solution, the City of Galveston, TX, believed it could recover a significant amount of revenue by identifying and recapturing unaccounted for water. After carefully evaluating meters, transmitters, and software from many manufacturers, Galveston selected Badger Meter's ORION® system. Since installation, ORION has helped the city dramatically increase water accountability, accuracy, efficiency, and revenue...

MILWAUKEE, WI, April 15, 2008 -- Like it says in the old Glen Campbell song, you can hear the sea winds blowing and the sea waves crashing in the City of Galveston. Located on the Gulf of Mexico 40 minutes south of Houston, the 32-mile long island is a major tourist destination and the largest cruise ship port on the Gulf Coast. With a permanent population of 57,000 and a growing population of people who are making it their second home, Galveston is the largest island community established on a barrier island.

Just a few short years ago, sea waves weren't the only thing crashing in Galveston. The City's water meters and related infrastructure were dilapidated and unreliable. Faulty readings and inaccurate counts had become commonplace.

By switching from an aging touch-type metering system to an automatic meter reading (AMR) solution, the City believed it could recover a significant amount of revenue by identifying and recapturing unaccounted for water. After carefully evaluating meters, transmitters, and software from many manufacturers, Galveston selected Badger Meter's ORION® system.

Since installation, ORION has helped the city dramatically increase water accountability, accuracy, efficiency, and revenue. The city estimates it will recover more than $1.4 million annually in billing that was lost to the old metering process.

ORION Reduces Staff, Recovers Lost Billing
Before ORION, a wide variety of meters were in the ground, some almost 40 years old. Many meters were either not registering or under-registering up to 75 percent. An inordinate number of meter rereads were needed to verify customer claims, which was labor intensive and inefficient.

Installation of ORION began in November 2004. More than 23,000 meters were installed over a 14-month period by a private contractor. After installation, the city was able to reduce its meter reading staff from thirteen down to three.

When the system went live, the benefits of the new system became immediately apparent. The system revealed that many of the old meters had been inconsistent, inaccurate, or not reading at all. It also revealed that significant revenue from a handful of large, private, and governmental customers had previously gone undetected.

Read Times Reduced From Several Days To Under an Hour
Using ORION, reads are picked up much faster. Meter readers simply drive the route with their laptops, and the ORION AMR system does the rest, automatically reading meters.

The optional GPS feature displays the exact location of each meter on a map. A color code displays whether a meter has been read, skipped, or has a possible leak.

Readers can now complete routes with over 600 meters in 45 minutes, instead of two or three days. Readers now have more time to spend on maintaining meters and on customer service issues, such as turning water service on and off for seasonal residents.

The new "drive by" system is much easier on readers. "Our readers no longer have to walk three or four miles in the heat, cold, and rain," said Michael Tolbert, Utility Foreman. "Imagine bending over 690 times to manually read meters carrying a two-pound handheld. Our readers got very tired."

Accuracy has significantly improved. "The old hand-held meter reading system was highly inaccurate," said Diane Millican, Customer Service Superintendent. "We often had to send out readers to reread a meter after finding an error, doubling the work of readers and billing staff. ORION ensures reads are picked up more quickly and accurately, with far fewer errors, estimated reads, and re-reads."

Billing Department Gets CONNECTed to Software
Billing staff have become much more efficient using the user-friendly Badger® CONNECT software. Menu options are clearly displayed and easy to follow. Read data is easily transferred and historical reading data can be stored and archived. The custom report builder makes it easy to create and generate reports, including high/low read limits, number of reads sent to billing, unread meters, meters with/without tamper codes, meters with/without GPS coordinates, and more.

Using the optional leak detection feature, the Billing Department can monitor excess water consumption for individual meters. When usage increases dramatically during a particular month, the department alerts the customer to potential leaks.

"If a customer challenges the meter's consumption accuracy, the meter profile proves that there was a leak or other issue that caused the consumption," explained Eric Wilson, Assistant Director of Municipal Utilities. "As consumers become more aware of this technology, challenges will dramatically decrease."

The City is currently implementing ORION's data profiling feature, which allows them to graphically display water usage data in as small as one-minute intervals. "This is a very valuable tool," said Wilson. "It helps us evaluate where and why there is a spike in usage."

Wilson has recommended ORION to a number of other municipalities. "I highly recommend ORION to any entity that has low water accountability and spends excessive time in the data acquisition process," he said.

"Anyone that is currently using a manual reading system should consider ORION," added Millican. "It's an excellent solution for more accuracy, faster meter reads, and easier operation."

About the author: Kevin Orfield is a freelance writer based in Thiensville, WI.

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Also see:
-- "Badger Meter buys Galaxy fixed-based network meter reading systems technology from Miltel"
-- "Yuma, Arizona Adopts The Badger® ORION® System To Help Manage Its Precious Water Resource"
-- "Easton Water Serves Its Customers with Pride By Deploying The Badger® ORION® System"

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