AUBURN — Water district officials should begin going into residences across the city next month, the beginning of a three-year effort to swap out and replace the city's aging water meters.
John Storer told City Councilors Monday that most of the city's 6,500 water meters are at least 25-years old and outdated.
"The system we have worked really well for a long time, but there's newer technology," Storer said "It's time to update them now."
Most of the water meters in the city still use a 1960s-era electronic card reader system. Meter readers have a handheld sensor that attaches to a port on the outside of the home, downloading current water use readings. That sensor is plugged into a computer back at the district office, and the water use information is downloaded to the district's system for billing.
"That was great technology 25 years ago, state of the art at the time," Storer said. "It was a big improvement over having to write the meter readings down by hand. It was much faster and more accurate."
But newer technology has made the city's old system obsolete.
"Our guns, the sensors we use, are no longer supported," Storer said. "They just don't make them anymore. If the ones we have break down, we'd actually have to make appointments to go into the peoples' homes to read the meters by hand."
The new system will let meter readers drive up a street with a radio reader in the car. It sends out a coded signal, and the household meter units respond, sending back a serial number and the latest meter readings.
"The unit has a half-mile range, so we can just drive up a street once and collect all the information at once," Storer said. A job that takes meter readers 200 hours per month to complete can be done in a day with the new system.
Storer expects the units will save the district money over the next few years, cutting down on fuel use and moving meter readers into other departments.
"I think we're going to be very happy with this, for the next 20 years at least," Storer said.
Overall, the project should cost the district about $1.13 million and will take three years to complete. They've already swapped out components on most businesses and a few homes. They have about 4,200 left, and hope to replace about 1,4000 meter per year.
The district will begin sending letters to residents this week, notifying them about what is being planned. The water district needs to come in the house, and Storer said the work should take about 20 minutes per home.
Water district personnel will be driving district vehicles and will have police-issued ID cards. Storer said that residents should contact the district or police if they are concerned about impostors.