A better system for tracking your water usage and billing data also could lay the groundwork for making Columbia a “smarter” city.
By next summer, the city will begin a three-year process of replacing nearly every water meter in its system with more advanced meters and new meter-reading technology.
The city handles more than a thousand calls each month complaining about water bills, utilities director Joey Jaco estimated. And staff members have little information to go on by way of explanation to upset customers.
That’s partly because water meters are read only once a month now. Without more detailed data, it can be hard to identify problems such as leaks that result in unusually high water bills.
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But the new meter-reading system will allow both customers and city staff to check water usage online essentially in real time.
In addition to more accurately measuring water usage and better detecting leaks, the new meter-reading technology also will provide the framework for a network that could, in the future, manage other city functions such as lighting, parking and trash collection, consultants told City Council on Tuesday.
“I’m not sure how this is anything short of downright exciting on all fronts,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said, adding that he sees the new technology as “leaping forward boldly into the 21st century.”
In Cleveland, Ohio, a city that has the same system Columbia is moving toward, one result has been fewer complaint calls from customers but longer, more informed conversations between customers and staff members when customers do have questions, consultants told City Council.
Other benefits of the new meter technology, consultants said, include:
▪ More efficient water usage. As water customers are able to track their water usage essentially in real time, they’re more likely to be more conscious of their usage and use less water.
▪ More accurate billing. As water meters age, they don’t register all the water that’s actually used. So newer meters will capture usage more accurately and result in more customers paying for what they’ve actually used. Of course, that could mean higher bills for some customers.
It will cost the city around $49 million initially to replace some 140,000 water meters in its system, which includes both residential and commercial customers inside and outside of city limits.
Consultants estimate the city will see a return on that investment within six years.