Water District adds new commissioner, approves automated meter readers, offers paperless billing

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, Staff Writer

It’s been a busy time for the water district. At the Sept. 3 Board meeting, which was the first meeting for new Commissioner Paj Hwang, the Board voted to approve the final contract for automated meter readers, a project that’s been in the works for years.

And, three months after implementing paperless billing, the water district reports that customers have switched to paperless billing more quickly than the district expected.

New Commissioner Selected

Paj HawangCommissioner Paj HwangPaj Hwang will replace former Commissioner Ken Goodwin, the Board decided at its Aug. 27 meeting.

Hwang has degrees in civil engineering and business administration and is a civil engineer for the city of Seattle. In his 12-year career, he has primarily worked with water and sewer providers to plan, design and construct infrastructure, according to a press release from the water district.

Following his selection, Hwang said: "We are fortunate to have such essential services to sustain our quality of life and without interruption as sometimes experienced with other utilities … I want to work to ensure that this continues into the near and long-term future."

The Board interviewed two candidates, Hwang and Tyler Norwood.

"Paj has a thorough understanding of utility systems," Commissioner Ed Cebron said. "Combined with his clear dedication to community service, he brings added value to our district and its customers."

Paperless Billing

About 7.5 percent of water district customers now pay their bills paperlessly since the district began offering that option in March, Finance Manager Jack Broyles said.

"The adoption rate has been faster than we thought it would be," he said.

The water district started looking for an online bill pay service because customers were asking for it, Broyles said.

Doxo allows customers to pay multiple bills and securely store documents. Although doxo doesn’t charge customers a fee, it does charge a fee to the water district, but Broyles said the service will still save money once a certain amount of customers start using it.

"It’s cheaper in the long run than doing paper," he said. "It’s more green."

Automated Meter Readers

meter box put together 1Photo courtesy of WWD. Automated meter reader The Board approved a contract with Ferguson Enterprises for automated meter readers (AMR), also known as automated meter infrastructure (AMI). The project will cost approximately $4.5 million, which will be funded through low-interest bonds.

Currently, to read water meters, water district staff drive to each of the district’s 14,000 homes every two months. They open each meter cover, type the reading into a handheld device, and bring that information back to the water district office at the end of the day.

The AMR radios will transmit data about water usage every four hours, and the water district will be able to access the data from a computer. Since the new system won’t require manually checking water meters or setting meters up when customers move in or out, it will free up 1.5 full time employees to work on system maintenance, according to Deborah Rannfeldt, public information coordinator for the water district.

In addition to making the meter reading process more efficient, AMR can potentially save customers money by detecting leaks more quickly. There will be fewer misreads and no estimated reads due to snow, Rannfeldt said.

Customers will be able to track their own water usage data, and usage will be measured gallons rather than cubic feet, making it easier to understand.

The water district will begin installing the AMR radios in November 2013 and plan to finish by March 2014, Operations and Maintenance Manager Steve Brown said at the meeting.

Meters older than 10 years will be replaced completely, and meters newer than 10 years will have a radio added to the existing meters. The new meters are projected to last 20 years.

When other cities, including Renton, implemented AMR technology, some citizens were concerned about health effects on humans and birds.

"We’ve had some customers call in, worried about the radio frequency and what it’s going to do," Brown said.

But there’s no need to worry — the FCC sets limits on exposure to radio frequency, and the AMR devices are far below that limit, he said. At 3 feet away from an AMR radio, exposure is 1/14,000,000th of the FCC limit. At 10 feet away, it is 1/160,000,000th of the limit.

In less abstract terms, the amount of radio frequency emitted from the AMR radios is much less than that of a cell phone or the sensors of an automatic door at a grocery store.

Commissioner Rick Chatterton said he and Commissioner Karen Steeb would prove AMR’s safety by volunteering to be the first to get the new meters.

"Both of us are willing to be the guinea pigs," Chatterton said.

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