Little black pods are slowly spreading across Albuquerque’s water meters as the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility rolls out a new network of automated readers that among other things will allow conservation-conscious residents and businesses to monitor their consumption daily.
The system uses five antennas around Albuquerque, with the little battery-operated meters regularly radioing back their data. The system reduces the cost of reading meters while giving the water utility better real time water consumption data, according to Hobert Warren, the agency’s customer services manager.
With the addition of similar real-time meters on the agency’s underground main lines, the system will allow the agency to react more quickly to water main breaks, Warren said in a recent interview. Real-time monitoring of the main lines will also allow the agency to reduce the system’s operating pressure, which officials hope will lead to fewer water main breaks
For residential and business customers, the system allows users who want to conserve to more closely monitor their water use, with the ability to log in daily to monitor consumption, said Juaquin Zamora, who is overseeing the system installation.
In some cases, the newly installed antenna pokes up above the sidewalk, which has led to at least two complaints that the devices pose a risk to pedestrians. “They tend to be a tripping hazard for some of our older neighbors,” said Winton Smith, president of the Academy Estates Neighborhood Association in the Northeast Heights.
Water authority officials say the design, with sloped sides that stick up less than half an inch, was chosen to meet Americans With Disabilities Act and Federal Highway Administration guidelines regarding trip hazards, but they acknowledge the concerns.
Smith said that when he contacted water authority personnel about the problem, they offered to come out and install new antennas that are more recessed, and he said he was satisfied with the outcome.
The water authority received a second complaint from a senior citizens apartment complex, and in response the agency installed recessed antennas there, according to agency spokesman David Morris. With 55,067 installed over the last two years, there have been no claims filed for tripping incidents involving the meters, Morris said.
Installation in the first two years has focused on the metro area’s West Side, with a scattering of neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. Total cost to date has been $4.5 million, according to Warren.
Initial deployment has focused especially on homes with dogs and other issues that have made it difficult for the staff that in the past has gone around town reading meters by hand, Zamora said. The early work also focused on neighborhoods, like those in the South Valley, where homes are farther apart and where it takes longer to read meters.
The agency had hoped to spend another $2 million expanding the network this year, but the water utility’s managers delayed the work because of a shortfall in their 2013-14 budget.