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Sisterville’s Water Woes Drain Efficiency

By Staff | Feb 24, 2016

Photo Provided Sistersville’s Water Department workers unearth a water meter.

By MILES LAYTON

Staff writer

SISTERSVILLE – City Hall is considering the possibility of purchasing radio-read water meters.

“My worries are for the age of our water system,” Mayor Bill Rice said. “While in its day, it was state-of-the-art, today it is outdated. As I have said before, we have to move forward in getting our water loss under control. That will not be easy. That is why the radio-read meters would help us to achieve that goal.”

Rice said though the city pumps out about 3 million gallons of water per month, it bills for only about 1.6 million gallons.

Recently, the city’s water department workers found an abandoned house with a leak that had registered more than 17,000 gallons of lost water.

“If we had not been reading the meters, who knows how much the loss would have been,” Rice said.

Water department workers had to toil in the mud and muck recently to read water meters.

“Under the mud and in those puddles are meters,” said Chad Edwards, city recorder. “With radio-read meters, we won’t have to deal with this. The radio-read water meters are cost effective in terms of labor costs and accuracy. Not only do we read these older meters when we take our readings – which takes an entire week every month – but we spend another week going back and correcting any misread meters or trying to uncover discrepancies. We do the best job we can to make sure everyone’s meter is read as accurately as possible.”

Edwards contends there may be mistakes made while trying to quantify readings from hundreds of old meters.

“You think about 750 meters and having to read ones that look like this – there are bound to be some mistakes,” he said. “The radio-read meters will eliminate that.”

The state’s Public Service Commission’s (PSC) standards require that utilities’ “unaccounted for” lost water is no more than 15 percent of the total water pumped.

High water loss rates like this are reasonably common through small to medium sized water systems across the state.

If City Hall is able to reduce water loss rate, it may be able to tap into the Tyler Public Service District’s water supply so that it would no longer have to rely on water drawn from the Ohio River.

Rice said the water meters would cost about $180 each for a total cost between $130,000 and $171,000 to replace the meters. Edwards said the new radio-read meter heads can be installed by city employees onto existing water meters.

Edwards said reading the new meters would be far more efficient than it is now.

“Saving money is uncertain,” he said. “However, the meter reading process will be more accurate and run more efficiently.”

Todd Tippins, a resident of Sistersville, contends that though radio-read meters are a good idea, that the city doesn’t have the money to spend on new meters. He worries the city may be treading water if it acquires new debt to buy the meters and about possible future water rate increases.

“The meters themselves are a great idea,” he said. “But for a town that is all but broke and the average water bill is about $180 per household, I don’t think spending $200,000 is a good idea at this present time.”

Tippins said the new meters will alert the city as to leaks, but the real problem is from water leaks within main and secondary lines. He said it is hard to believe a third of the city’s water supply is being misread because of human error.

“The city just wants to keep spending money that they don’t have,” he said. “Just because bonds are coming to a close doesn’t mean we need to get another debt started.”

Rice asked if council would place on March’s meeting agenda a discussion geared toward the possible purchase of new meters. The city’s Water Board has yet to endorse any proposals regarding water meters.

“We will talk about the radio-reads at the council meeting and if they would want to put it to a vote, yes I will,” he said.

John Kneel from HD Water Supply has said that he will come if council wants him to discuss the meters, Rice said. Another company is putting something together that is supposed to help find water loss, he said. Rice said radio-read water meters make good sense.

“Our city engineers are advising us to put in the meters also,” he said. “I think some people are under the assumption that their water bills will go up. I for one am not in favor of that. But we have got to just quit sitting on our hands and doing nothing.”