Smart Water Meters: Smarter Water Management for Cities and Towns

by Jonathan Blackwell, National Director of AMI and Water Meter Solutions
August 16, 2019

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 36 states face water shortages, making effective conservation of water more important than ever. Replacing mechanical water meters with automated, digital meters is vital for bringing communities into the 21st century as Smart Cities and Towns, at least in terms of critical water management.

What is a Smart Water Meter?

Digital water meters, also referred to as “smart” water meters rely on solid-state technology in a compact, weatherproof housing, suitable for both commercial and residential applications. Electronic metering provides information such as gallons per minute of water flow, reverse-flow indication, and other operating data not typically available from mechanical meters. Water consumption data, paired with a secure network, provide residential and commercial customers an online portal with a simple dashboard view to help keep them informed on their daily water usage.

Water utilities throughout the country are making the transition from an antiquated, manual process of reading water meters to Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technologies that will enable them to automate water meter reading, detect water leaks, transmit water consumption data in real-time, and streamline customer billing. 

Infographic depicting how advanced metering infrastructures work

The Need for Water Meter Replacement

Old mechanical meters degrade over time and may fail to provide accurate measurement readings. Hard water, debris, age, lime deposits, and corrosion all reduce the accuracy of analog meters, leading to lower measurements and the risk of unbilled water use.

This means cities and towns could potentially be losing as much as 15-25% of their annual water revenues due to aging technologies and water distribution infrastructure. According to a 2014 national research statistic, 2.1 trillion gallons is lost each year because of aging and leaky pipes, broken water mains, and faulty water meters at a national cost of $3 billion.

The Benefits of Smart Water Meters

  • Timely water usage data: Smart water meters can provide daily water consumption data for both the water utility and customers, with the ability to set customizable alerts.
  • Accurate billing: With more precise meter readings, cities can bill more accurately, and customers have more control of their water consumption.
  • Water revenue optimization: Reducing the amount of unbilled water due to accurate meter reading and timely leak detection can increase utility revenues.
  • Water leak detection: Real-time water consumption data can provide proactive service for identifying and resolving leaks, both with your customers or within your distribution system.
  • Scalable: Most AMI technologies allow for real-time water data and provide a platform to enhance other services, such as street light integration, pressure monitoring, distribution leak detection, and SCADA integration.
  • Pin-Point Accuracy: We are talking water drops here!  The evolution of Mag and Ultra-Sonic metering technologies are allowing water utilities to read at long-term, sustained low flow rates that have never been achievable with traditional mechanical meters.

Financing a Water Meter Replacement Project

To help finance water meter replacement projects without incurring capital spending, public owners can use energy savings performance contracting legislation (ESPC) through an accredited energy savings company or ESCO. This flexible funding mechanism enables municipalities to utilize the increase in billable revenues, energy savings, operational savings, and avoided capital costs to pay for critical infrastructure improvements, including water meter efficiency improvements. As a result, no up-front capital investment is required. Project costs are 100% financed and are repaid with guaranteed savings and revenue increases.

Pie chart representation of energy saving performance contracting for water meter projects

How to Implement a Water Meter Project

After selecting an ESCO provider, the project begins with an energy and utility audit, where the ESCO identifies opportunities and potential savings areas and then recommends any number of energy conservation measures and water revenue optimization options. Together, the utility and the ESCO agree upon the project scope. The ESCO guarantees minimum energy savings, increased water revenues and efficiencies, and operational savings to cover the project's cost. Once the project is completed, the ESCO monitors the performance of the project to ensure guarantees are achieved or exceeded.

Case Study Example: Agua Specialty Utility District

Agua Specialty Utility District (SUD) in Palmview, Texas, was experiencing the pains of old, outdated water meters. Labor-intensive and manual meter reading processes, inaccurate billing, and difficulties in detecting water leaks resulted in Agua SUD pursuing a water meter replacement project in 2018.

After analysis of their system assets and due diligence, Agua SUD entered a performance contract (ESPC) to implement a smart water meter project. The largest deployment to date in the Rio Grande Valley, the Agua SUD AMI project, will replace and modernize an estimated 15,000 commercial and residential water meters across five cities. The wireless smart water meters will track water usage in real-time, automating and eliminating a process that previously took weeks to complete. In addition, their new AMI system connects meters with powerful analytics to a secure network, providing the water utility the tools needed to enhance their processes and deliver proactive customer service.

A communication campaign to inform customers of the impending change included an advance postcard mailer along with door tags before and after installation. The ESPC project will guarantee $816,086 in annual efficiency gains for a program period of 15 years. Agua SUD will pay for the financing from efficiency gains realized by the improvements.

Bringing It All Together

Smart water meters delivered through proven AMI technologies are a safe approach to modernizing commercial and residential water meters and are an essential step in becoming a smart city or town. The automated meter system ensures water usage is accurately and efficiency tracked, saving time and money for water utilities and their customers. You can read more about the Agua SUD project here.

Call to action graphic linking to webinar about renewing water infrastructure

Interested in becoming a Smart City? 

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Photo of Jonathan Blackwell, Business Development Manager

Jonathan Blackwell

National Director of AMI and Water meter solutions, LEED AP


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Read more from Jonathan! Check out the recently published article, Driven by Big Data, in Water Finance & Management, the Journal for Water and Wastewater Professionals!


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