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Big Brother and the water company would help stop leaks

Somerville Journal | July 14 2005

Will Big Brother be your next meter reader?

The new water meters the city hopes to install across the city this year will not only allow meter readers to see how much water you are using, they will also allow them to see when you are using it.

"We could actually alert the customers that we noticed you are using a lot of water at night," said city Water Superintendent Barbara Stevens. "[We could ask them] is something leaking?"

Stevens told the Board of Aldermen last month that the city is hoping to install the new radio-readable water meters at about 3,000 homes and businesses across the city. More than 1,000 of the meters have already been installed.

"The meter-reading system we have right now is very antiquated in many ways," Stevens said.

But the new meters could eventually lead to savings for the city and water customers.

Because the water meters can be read using a radio signal, Stevens said they will cut down on the time it takes city workers to measure water usage across the city.

With the capacity to detect heavy water-usage during off hours and late at night when most people are asleep, Stevens said the city might be able to warn residents about water leaks at their homes.

Fixing the leaks will save the customers money, and cutting down on leaks across the city could save money for the city and water customers across the city. The reason, Stevens said, is about 27 percent of the water used throughout Somerville is unaccounted for. Leaks in the city's water-pipe system is the biggest culprit to the vanishing water, she said, and to cover the cost of the leaks, water customers pay higher rates for the water they use.

If the city can better track where the water is being used and where it is being leaked, Stevens said the city can cut back on the total usage, and customers won't be paying as much for water they never used.

Regardless of whether the new meters will save customers money or not, however, Stevens said the new meters will allow customers to better budget for their water bills.

Because the new meters can be read by remote, Stevens said it will be easier for the city to consistently read every meter after 90 days of use. Getting close enough to read the older water meters firsthand takes more time, and causes the city delays in reading the meters. So instead of reading a meter 90 days, the city might not be able to read a meter for 120 days, and the customer will have to pay for more water usage on a single bill.

Consistently reading the meters after 90 days will make bills more consistent for customers, and easier to plan for, Stevens said.


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