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City switches water meters for savings

Staff writer

As Marion city workers go around town replacing old water meters this summer, sometimes they find one so deep they can’t reach far enough down inside the 18-inch diameter meter wells to change it. How do they get to it?

“Skinny guys come in handy,” city superintendent Marty Frederickson said.

The city purchased 990 Elster SmartMeters using a $198,480 loan from the Kansas Public Water Supply Loan Fund, enough to replace every residential and commercial meter in town. The new meters measure water usage electronically, and will replace mechanical meters that have grown inaccurate over time.

“We’ve got some pretty old meters,” City Administrator Doug Kjellin said. “Some of these are from the 1940s. You would expect one of those meters to run 8 to 10 percent slower.

“It’s not fair someone is getting charged for exactly what he’s using, and somebody else is only paying for 90 percent of what he’s using.”

Kjellin estimated an average monthly residential user whose meter is running slow pays $1.50 less per month than the actual billing amount should be. Accurate metering and billing system-wide will recoup significant lost revenue.

“A 3 percent water saving over 15 years is $157,000, and I think we beat that,” Kjellin said. “If we do 5 percent it’s over $250,000.”

Similar to the new electric meters, SmartMeters transmit data to a receiver in a city vehicle that reads them while driving by, which yields more savings.

“We don’t have to walk around the neighborhood and lift up manhole covers every month,” Kjellin said. “Scott Heidebrecht went out yesterday and read all the electric meters and about 40 percent of the water meters electronically in less than an hour. In a 15-year period we’ll save about $220,000 in time, labor, and gas.”

Another financial boon is that the city will only have to repay $119,100 of the original loan, because the project qualifies as a “green” initiative.

Approximately 400 meters have been replaced, but the rate of installation varies depending on what workers discover at each stop.

“The other day they put in a total of 47. Today we got 10 of them replaced,” Frederickson said. “Maybe the fittings were too tight or too close together, and they had to struggle to put the meter back in. Some down in the valley have a lot of flood mud that got into the meter pits, and we have to dig that out to get to the fittings.”

A routine installation takes only about 15 minutes, Fredrickson said, and crews try to schedule their work to minimize disruptions.

“We haven’t had any complaints of shutting the water off while somebody’s in the shower all sudsed up,” Fredrickson said.

If a house has an indoor meter, it will be left in place, the outdoor register used to read it will be removed, and the new meter will be installed outdoors.

“It doesn’t hurt anything, so we’re just going to leave it there. It’s better than touching some of that old plumbing,” Kjellin said.

Fredrickson said he hopes all the new meters will be installed by the end of the year.

Last modified Aug. 9, 2012

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