The Augusta Utilities Department is gearing up for a gradual but widespread replacement of its aging fleet of water meters that determine how much the city’s 64,000 account holders pay each month.
“We’ve got a lot of old meters in the system and in the next five years we will have a major change out,” Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said.
The replacement, costing about $1 million per year, will start in 2013 with a goal of replacing about 20 percent of the meters each year.
Augusta and neighboring Columbia County are among about 250 large water systems in the state that must perform annual audits to comply with the Georgia Water Stewardship Act, a 2010 law designed to reduce water consumption by improving efficiency.
“One highlight of that exercise was that we learned we have a lot of really old meters in the system,” Wiedmeier said. “Statistically, we know they are under reporting.”
Typical mechanical meters, he said, are unlikely to over-report water use. “As it wears, it would actually lose efficiency and under-read the amount of water that goes through.”
Individual water meters should be changed every 10 years to avoid lost revenue.
The new law also requires systems serving more than 3,000 customers to determine how much “nonrevenue water” is produced each year.
Estimates compiled last year concluded Augusta’s share of water that is treated and pumped, but not billed, is about 15 percent of its total production, while Columbia County – with a smaller, newer system – estimated its nonrevenue water as about 9.9 percent of its production.
Both are below state averages, compiled by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, that range from 20 percent to 30 percent.
Columbia County does not plan any widespread replacement of meters, said Bill Clayton, the director of Columbia County’s Water Utility.
“We have a fairly aggressive meter change-out program and have found our system to be very accurate,” he said.
There are some changes on the horizon, however.
“We hope to be moving into an arena where a customer can go online and see when and how much water is used,” he said. “That will probably take about seven years to complete, but we are working in that direction.”