By Kim Barto Meeks
Water meter upgrades in the county are 82 percent complete, the Henry County Public Service Authority (PSA) learned at its board meeting Monday night.
Meters are being replaced with a radio-read system that increases the efficiency of the meter reading process and detects leaks earlier, said county Director of Engineering Tim Pace. About 8,036 of 9,586 devices have been replaced so far, he told the board.
Almost 3,000 additional meters had previously been replaced.
The project costs approximately $1.4 million. “There will be some operational cost savings, but the biggest benefits will be efficiency and accuracy for the HCPSA’s billing department,” Pace said.
With the new meters, “a process that used to take 17 to 19 days now takes three to five days,” Pace said.
The county has been using touch readers, which require using a device to physically touch the meter, for about 20 years. Now that they are upgrading to radio reading, “staff don’t even have to get out of the car,” he said.
“Our meter readers literally ride down the street, and the data downloads,” said County Administrator Tim Hall.
Radio-read meters also can help detect possible leaks sooner. Previously, high water consumption couldn’t be detected until after each read cycle, which could be up to six weeks before the customer was notified, Pace said.
“Once the new system is operational, the meters can be read twice each month, once for billing and once for leak detection. This should allow the PSA to notify customers weeks sooner, conserving water and saving the rate payers money,” he said.
The replacements are being performed by Core & Main and Professional Meters, Inc. The project is on track to be completed by December, if not sooner.
Also during the PSA board meeting, members learned that a rock smaller than a fist caused almost $6,000 in water loss in August and September. The county is looking at measures to prevent future leaks from occurring.
Mike Ward, PSA Director of Regulatory Compliance, explained that 7 million gallons of water were lost from early August to September. “We were losing about 300,000 gallons a day of water and didn’t know where it was going,” he said. “Staff searched everywhere,” including remote sections of lines.
Finally, there was a rock found in one of the pressure reducing valves in the Ridgeway area, he said. It was keeping open a valve and causing water to surge. As a result, the county is installing a screen in front of the valve and “looking at some other things trying to balance costs and effectiveness.” One idea is to put a radio reader on the surge release valves so problems can be detected.
County Administrator Tim Hall praised staff for solving the mystery. “It was a needle in the haystack, and they found it. The staff deserve a lot of credit. They put in a lot of foot time.”
The 7 million gallon water loss was estimated based on daily increased production at the water plant over a 30-day period, Ward said. The current unit cost to treat water at the plant is $0.84 per 1,000 gallons, so the total cost based on those rates was about $5,880.
In an additional effort to stop water loss, the county is working with Utilis for satellite-based leak detection. In their first flyover, they found 169 leaks, according to board documents. They identified 684 “points of interest” for further investigation, and crews were able to look at 132 of those in less than two weeks, “so they made pretty good progress,” Pace said. The search identified “some hydrants that were losing four or five gallons a minute. That adds up,” he said.
The PSA hired Michael Whitlock as a Water Loss Technician in July 2019, and he is continuing to follow up on the satellite report, Pace said.
Also during the meeting, Hall gave an update on Press Glass, sharing that they had started moving equipment into their new facility in Ridgeway that day. Meanwhile, Press Glass human resources and the construction crews for the building are working out the Commonwealth Centre for Advanced Training (CCAT), he said. Hall said he wanted to correct “a rumor out there that Press Glass is not coming. Please reassure folks that they’re here, and they’re building like crazy. It’s an exciting project.”
The PSA Board also learned that a fire hydrant repainting project has been tabled until spring 2020 due to an inability to find workers, Pace said.
“It would have been a great summer for the fire hydrant painting, but we just could not get the labor,” he said. Asked how much the jobs pay, Pace said $8 an hour.
“It’s tough finding people. We’ve had real problems hiring, and not just us – that’s the county, sheriff’s office, industry, all over,” Hall said.