Government Technology

San Francisco Water Meters to Detect Leaks, Help Customers Track Usage


June 18, 2010 By

San Francisco started replacing its 175,000-plus water meters in June with high-tech devices that will eventually allow customers to view their water use online and eliminate the need for manual meter readers.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) on June 7 began its automated water meter program, a two-year effort to replace all residential and commercial water meters in the city. The new meters use low-frequency radio signals to collect hourly water use and transmits that data four times a day to the SFPUC billing system. The $50 million program is being funded by a 91-cent fee that's being tacked onto ratepayers' monthly bills.

"It's a great tool in looking for potential spikes in usage and leaks," said Heather Pohl, SFPUC automated water meter program project manager. "So we can, in real time, help people monitor and manage their water use more effectively."

While San Francisco's utility commission is the first major California water utility to install the technology, according to the SFPUC. The utility is following a nationwide trend of other cities that have deployed similar technologies. Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Kansas City, Mo., use the same meter-reading system, and New York City and Toronto are starting extensive projects with the same technology, according to a SFPUC frequently asked questions page.

Public utilities across the country have also started installing smart electricity meters with similar functionality in millions of homes and businesses.

Currently most residential water meters are read by meter readers once every two months, and commercial meters are read every month. But this "intensive and infrequent" process can result in bill estimations when the readers can't be accessed due to parked cars and other obstructions. It also doesn't allow for water leaks to be quickly detected, which can result in more expensive monthly bills. The automated water meter system will nix both issues by collecting more frequent consumption data and flagging water consumption surges.

Eventually the commission hopes to send e-mail alerts to customers if there's an unusual amount of water being used, which may allay undetected leaks.

"If they've got a leak now, and toilet leaks happen every day, they can result in a lot of water loss, and right now they won't know," Pohl said. "It gives them tools to understand what they're paying for."

How the Technology Works

The automated water meter system -- brand name Aclara Fixed Network AMI STAR System -- uses a wireless fixed network system with three components. The meter transmission unit, connected to the water meter, "reads" the meter every hour and sends its information to the data collection unit every six hours.

There will be about 70 data collection units throughout the city on SFPUC facilities and city-owned poles and rooftops, which will transmit meter readings to the SFPUC's network control computer. The network control computer feeds into the SFPUC's billing system and calculates the amount of water used, creating statements.

The meter readings are transmitted via the automated network using a private radio frequency channel, from the meter box to data collectors, and using a cellular data network from the data collectors to the network control computer.

Testing, Safety, Security and Accuracy

Due to public safety concerns about radio frequency exposure levels, the SFPUC partnered with the Department of Public Health to evaluate the automated water meters' transmission levels. The signals turned out to be "well below" government limits with respect to radio frequency exposure levels, according to the SFPUC.

The technology has proven itself effective, and has been in use for more than 13 years, the SFPUC assures. Privacy concerns -- that personal customer


| More

Comments

Jail Bush    |    Commented June 19, 2010

Thousands of meter readers will be out of their jobs and yet another grid of radio frequency radiation will be soaking the city in it's genotoxic soup blasting residents every 4 hours with doses higher than FCC regulations permit but averaged over time 1 burst every 4 hours is how they get away with it.

Jail Bush    |    Commented June 19, 2010

Thousands of meter readers will be out of their jobs and yet another grid of radio frequency radiation will be soaking the city in it's genotoxic soup blasting residents every 4 hours with doses higher than FCC regulations permit but averaged over time 1 burst every 4 hours is how they get away with it.

Jail Bush    |    Commented June 19, 2010

Thousands of meter readers will be out of their jobs and yet another grid of radio frequency radiation will be soaking the city in it's genotoxic soup blasting residents every 4 hours with doses higher than FCC regulations permit but averaged over time 1 burst every 4 hours is how they get away with it.

Mike Case    |    Commented June 21, 2010

And in the 1970's there used to be 250,000 telephone operators in the country. Now there are less than 2,500. Technology and life go on. Get over it!

Mike Case    |    Commented June 21, 2010

And in the 1970's there used to be 250,000 telephone operators in the country. Now there are less than 2,500. Technology and life go on. Get over it!

Mike Case    |    Commented June 21, 2010

And in the 1970's there used to be 250,000 telephone operators in the country. Now there are less than 2,500. Technology and life go on. Get over it!

Mindy H    |    Commented June 22, 2010

The total radio energy from the entire system in aggregate is less than a single cell phone being operated continuously 24/7. You're probably also worried about TV stations, personal computers and your microwave oven. Clearly someone needs to buy you a foil hat.

Mindy H    |    Commented June 22, 2010

The total radio energy from the entire system in aggregate is less than a single cell phone being operated continuously 24/7. You're probably also worried about TV stations, personal computers and your microwave oven. Clearly someone needs to buy you a foil hat.

Mindy H    |    Commented June 22, 2010

The total radio energy from the entire system in aggregate is less than a single cell phone being operated continuously 24/7. You're probably also worried about TV stations, personal computers and your microwave oven. Clearly someone needs to buy you a foil hat.

Scott P    |    Commented March 16, 2011

Water has been leaking in front of my house for at least 6 day's. I have called 311 twice and no action yet..what does it take,to get them to repair it?


Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Redefining Citizen Engagement in a Mobile-First World
Today’s consumers are embracing the ease and convenience of anytime, anywhere access to the Internet from their mobile devices. In order for government and public sector organizations to fully engage with their citizens and provide similar service quality as their consumer counterparts, the time is now to shift to mobile citizen engagement. Learn more
McAfee Enterprise Security Manager and Threat Intelligence Exchange
As a part of the Intel® Security product offering, McAfee® Enterprise Security Manager and McAfee Threat Intelligence Exchange work together to provide organizations with exactly what they need to fight advanced threats. You get the situational awareness, actionable intelligence, and instantaneous speed to immediately identify, respond to, and proactively neutralize threats in just milliseconds.
Better security. Better government.
Powering security at all levels of government with simpler, more connected IT.
View All

Featured Papers