As published in the Lake Travis View, July 2021
When contemplating the use of water meters (who does that!?), most people will assume their sole purpose is to provide a way for utilities to bill their customers for the water they use. While this is true, there is more to the story and it’s a matter of economic, social, and environmental implications.
Did you know that even though water makes up over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface area, only one percent of it is readily usable to sustain all of life on Earth? Even though roughly the same amount of water exists today as billions of years ago, an increase in consumption and environmental changes have created a disconnect in the ability of planet’s natural water cycle to supply enough fresh water to meet the demand.
Scientists predict water management challenges may only get tougher. Water meters are one way water utilities help plan for future water demands to sustain their community. Our utility, Lakeway MUD, like so many others, is in the process of undergoing a transformation to become a “smart(er)” utility, implementing the latest technology in water metering to help ensure the long-term water needs of our community are secure.
Lakeway MUD, like so many others, is undergoing a transformation to implement the latest technology in water metering to help ensure the long-term water needs of the community are secure.
The History of Water Meters
In most communities across the United States, long gone are the days when meter readers were required to walk from house to house, visually inspecting and manually writing down the small digits displayed on each water meter to calculate water usage. Not only was this time consuming, but highly susceptible to human error.
Introduced in the 1980s was a system called automatic meter reading (AMR) allowing meter readers to slowly drive by each property. This is the most common technology used by utilities today, which automatically picks up data from each water meter using a radio frequency and a device mounted in the vehicle to capture the readings. Since these readings are downloaded directly to billing software, it removes the potential for human error. However, when customers are interested in detail about their water usage over a specific timeframe or suspicious of a potential leak, the utility must still send out a technician to make service calls, upload the data from each meter, and then download it onto a computer for analysis. Not only is this method still time consuming, but it is also ineffective at detecting unnoticed leaks.
Around 2008, the latest innovation in water meter technology was being introduced. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) meters are equipped with a cellular transmitter which securely sends water use information from each meter to a receiver, located at a high point in the utility’s service area and strengthened by repeaters. This data is encrypted and sent automatically to the utility; no personnel required. Rather than data being accessible only during readings that revolve around billing cycles, utilities can provide their customers with near real-time water usage data. Some utilities provide an app so their customers can access their own hourly usage information and receive alerts on potential leaks.
With water’s increasing recognition as a precious resource that must be conserved, effective monitoring and metering play a critical role in water management. Advancements in technology help utilities streamline their operations and deliver water more efficiently to their customers. By catching even the smallest of leaks, utilities and customers alike save money and help a precious resource from being wasted.
What’s next for meter-reading technology? There has been additional development on devices that can identify leaks in service lines, obtain temperature and pressure information, and even shut off service remotely (wouldn’t that have been nice during this year’s unprecedented snowstorm!?). As our utility makes a slow transitioning from AMR to AMI meters, we’re excited to see what long-term benefits it will offer us, our customers, and our community. With our source water (Lake Travis) levels continuing to decline, like so many others across the country, there’s never been a better time to avoid wasteful water use.
Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for the Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD). Earl Foster is the general manager of LMUD.