WEIRTON Not convinced that automatic meter readers will give them the most bang for their bucks, Weirton's water board will be looking at other options.
Utilities Director A.D. "Butch" Mastrantoni said they're looking for a system that will simplify the meter reading process and, at the same time, help reduce water loss.
"The board is trying to be proactive in finding a new reading system that will address unaccounted for water loss while being responsive to a reading system that would allow accurate, efficient readings," he said after Thursday's Water Board meeting.
UPDATE — Weirton’s Water Board was updated Thursday on a pilot study aimed at identifying a more cost- effective way to read meters. Among those taking part in the discussion were, from left, Sam Stoneking Jr., assistant director of water; Chairman Jim Shockley and Utilities Director A.D. “Butch” Mastrantoni. - Linda Harris
Mastrantoni said they're looking for a system with better leak detection capabilities, remote shutoff capabilities and automatic meter reading potential.
For the pilot study, the board purchased a limited number of automatic meter readers, which use Internet and satellite technology to read meters. The test looked at leak detection capabilities, remote shutoff value and automatic meter reading opportunities.
An antenna extruding from the meter pit allows the data to be transmitted. Unfortunately, Mastrantoni said the antennas were susceptible to damage from, for instance, snow plows used to clear streets in winter.
Mastrantoni said the results they'd hoped for that the AMRs would be less labor intensive and give them virtually instant ability to shut off water remotely via computer in the event leaks were detected in a customer's system never materialized. In actuality, he said it could take anywhere from two to 48 hours for water to shut off in the event of a customer emergency, and just as long to power up the system after a leak was resolved.
And while they'd had high hopes the high-tech system would free workers to do other tasks, Mastrantoni said they soon realized the meter readers would need to function as meter technicians since a problem with one AMR could knock out AMRs for as many as 45 other customers in a particular service cluster.
"For an investment of $2 million, we would like to have seen it be truly an automated system," he said. "Right now, it's not clear the cost of the system would provide a return over a 20-year period that would be beneficial to the Weirton Water Board."
He said the water department staff is asking for "additional study in order to bring a definitive answer to the board."
That likely will involve trying out a "drive-by" meter reading system, otherwise known as "radio readers."
He said the drive-by system uses transmitters in meter pits. "Every 30 days a meter technician would drive by in a van equipped with a reader device that would take readings by radio transmission," he said.
"The (drive-by) system would be half the capital cost of the AMR system," he said. Given what they learned about AMRs, he said that "while it doesn't have all the bells and whistles, it could be more cost effective for the city."
And Mastrantoni pointed out equipment they purchased for the AMR test will remain in service even if the board opts not to invest in it system-wide.
"We didn't waste money. It just makes the 100 meters we purchased for the AMR test a little more effective," he said, adding that the same would be true of any equipment, including radio readers, purchased on a limited basis for future tests.
Underlying their urgency to find a more efficient system is the water system's "26 percent unaccounted for water loss," he said.
While some water loss within the system is to be expected, he said 26 percent is too big a hit.
"We made some repairs, and that number could drop this (billing period)," he said. "But at 26 percent, we can't sit by and lose that kind of money. We need to know why we're losing it and where we're losing it."