Water meter installation: Steady progress despite hiccups

August 24, 2018

La PORTE — The installation of new electronic water meters and radio transmitting display units continues to flow through La Porte despite some rusty valves, resistance homeowners and call center troubles.

To date, La Porte Water Department Director Todd Taylor said 2,400 out of 8,400 water meters in homes and businesses across the city have been replaced.

When everything runs smoothly, Taylor says the process only takes up 15-20 minutes of the homeowner or tenant’s time.

Unfortunately, scheduling times and getting homeowners or tenants to let the installers into the property to change the indoor water meters isn’t always smooth.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges when you do a project like this,” Taylor said.

By law, water department customers are required to allow the replacement of the water meters. Property owners own and are responsible for the plumbing and the setting for which the water meter fastens into, but the water meter itself is owned by the water department.

“Utility service is a two way street. We agree to provide water 24 hours a day and do our best to provide quality water all the time. As a customer, they agree to pay for it and they have to provide a setting. So state law and our local code says customer is responsible for that plumbing,” Taylor explained.

Due to being in northern Indiana, where winters can be harsh, water meters must be placed indoors, often in basements and crawlspaces. The meters outside homes, which meter readers physically check monthly, are just display units wired up to the indoor meter.

Taylor said the new electronic meters, however, will eliminate the need for meter readers to physically visit homes and deal with past issues like fences, snow or dogs.

“Essentially we go in and put a new meter where the old meter was, wire it not to a display unit but a radio transmitter on the outside of the house. A couple times a day that’s going to send the usage data to us,” Taylor explained.

The radio transmitter is beneficial not only for the water department, but for customers too, according to Taylor.

Using a “smart meter system,” home and businesses daily usage will be monitored far more efficiently and precisely. Taylor said this can lead to savings in customers’ water bills.

For example, Taylor said slightly running toilets are the number one culprit for high water bills. Taylor said the new smart meter system would notice the small, but consistent usage of water and be able to determine there is a toilet leak. They would then be able to notify the customer so the issue could be fixed and therefore lower the customer’s future bills.

The monitoring could even prevent catastrophic flooding as the system could detect the high usage even if the homeowner isn’t home.

Another challenge which has come up in the water meter installation process is installers running into outdated plumbing and rusty valves, which the customer is required to keep in good condition.

“We have a lot of old homes in La Porte, and this meter is set into some really old plumbing which can be a bit fragile over time. Of course, it’s not our plumbing so we can’t fix it or make sure it’s good. Our installers go in and do their best to be gentle and get the meter changed, but every now and then there will be a problem. So we work through those problems when they come up,” Taylor said.

Recent call center troubles, which had phones “ringing off the hook” according to Taylor, have been resolved with additional manpower supplied by Schneider Electric.

More water meter installations will continue to be scheduled with hopes of having all the city’s meters replaced by, or soon after, the end of the year.

Taylor said the water meters are guaranteed to last 20 years.

After three attempts of trying to schedule a water meter installation, customers can be “red tagged” and the water department could suspend water usage to the uncomplying home.

In other news, the City of La Porte Board of Public Works and Safety approved a $19,469 video surveillance system to be installed in City Hall.

KiloByte PC’s, a La Porte business, was awarded the contract to install the surveillance system. KiloByte PC’s was stated to be the same firm who the police department used for similar work and was said to have a significantly lower quote than competitors.

City officials agreed the time was right to add the additional security to City Hall.

“I think it is a long overdue step,” said La Porte Mayor Mark Krentz.

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