Advanced metering is changing the way the city does business
By Alanna Maya
The city of Santa Fe, N.M., which serves 34,000 service connections, needed to find a new meter-reading solution due to a failing drive-by process.
In Santa Fe, every drop of water counts. Various water restrictions and limited supply meant that water customers were being charged at different rates based on usage, so metering was a key component to the city’s master plan. When the Public Utilities Department noticed their manual meter reads faced credibility issues in 2013, officials went to work on finding a solution.
The program needed to improve upon the current drive-by metering system, which only functioned “about 60-65 percent of the time,” according to Nick Schiavo, Public Utilities Department director for the City of Santa Fe.
According to Schiavo, with the previous system, employees “had to drive their route and then they had to go back and individually read the meters that weren’t read through the drive-by system.” This cost the city both time and money, and gave the public a negative impression of the utility and its billing practices.
With the previous system, employees had to individually read the meters that weren’t read through the drive-by system.
“We went from 16 meter readers, who walked the routes with handheld units, to 8 meter readers, [reading] over 34,000 service connections,” Schiavo recalled. “If 35-40 percent of your meters aren’t reading [properly], and you have to physically get out and manually read them, it adds a lot of time.
Caryn Fiorina, Utility Billing Division director for the City of Santa Fe, said customers would call in to dispute their bills on a regular basis. “So, the city of Santa Fe issued an RFP, and through a competitive process we selected Badger Meter’s BEACON® Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) software,” she said.
“If 35-40 percent of your meters aren’t reading [properly], and you have to physically get out and manually read them, it adds a lot of time.”
— Nick Schiavo, City of Santa Fe
Along with the advanced metering software, the city decided to upgrade all its meters to Badger’s E-Series Ultrasonic water meters, which they completed in two phases.
“We had the small meters — 5/8”, 3/4”,1” — [changed out first] and then once that was completed we were going to do the large meters — 1 1/2”, 2”, 3”, 4”. We were exchanging meters faster than the billing [department] could exchange them in the system,” said Kyle Sager, project coordinator for the City of Santa Fe. “It went really, really smooth, considering the amount of work that was done.”
The City of Santa Fe now gets hourly data, transmitted via cellular endpoints, all feeding back into the advanced metering system. City employees can now view all system alerts and get a complete operational overview at-a-glance to see how the system is operating.
In addition to upgrading the meter reading software, the city of Santa Fe decided to replace all of its water meters with ultrasonic meters.
“Santa Fe is now getting very high-resolution data,” said Kristie Anderson, marketing manager for Badger Meter. “That’s going to help them spot leaks, [which is] really critical in reducing non-revenue water.” It also helps the customer service department drill down to address a customer’s question. “It can help them look at their consumption patterns, analyze any anomalies,” Anderson added.
Santa Fe water customers can access their consumption data online at any time with a consumer engagement tool that comes with the advanced metering suite. EyeOnWater® lets customers see accurate water consumption data on a daily, hourly, and monthly basis. Fiorina said it has greatly impacted the public’s confidence in their water system.
“When people call me and question their bills I can now, with confidence, direct them to the Beacon site and know that I’m giving them the correct information, and they can look first-hand to see what their consumption is,” Fiorina said.
City employees can now view all system alerts and get a complete operational overview at-a-glance.
If a customer questions their water usage, a customer service representative can log into the system with the customer and see the same information, Anderson explained. They can even look at consumption hour by hour, and perhaps be reminded of having used a lot of water at a particular time of day. “So, they can see [the data] and it just brings a real credibility to the information,” she said.
With EyeOnWater, the city can pinpoint the time a leak started, and how many gallons of water per hour — or minute — were going through a particular meter during the incident. This has allowed consumers to proactively respond to leaks in their system, saving water and money.
“No one wants a high water bill,” Schiavo said. “When you lose ten or twenty thousand gallons because something is leaking in your home, or there’s a leak in your irrigation system outside, no one benefits — it’s not a feel-good moment at the city when we’re billing you for that water, and it’s certainly not good as a homeowner.”
Schiavo added that, in a town like Santa Fe where water is scarce, a system for monitoring consumption is critical. And the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Schiavo and Fiorina said, with some customers changing their consumption patterns during the summer months to avoid paying higher fees for their water usage. Some customers have even taken to social media to tout the utility’s new metering system, and city employees are able to concentrate on other projects rather than taking multiple meter reads each day.
“We’ve automated all our processes, and we’re…really using the technology to our advantage,” Fiorina said. “It’s changed the way the city of Santa Fe is doing business.” WW
About the Author: Alanna Maya is the Assistant Editor for WaterWorld and Industrial WaterWorld magazines. Email her at [email protected].