New meters could mean higher water bills for Agua SUD customers

This article originally apperead in the Friday, June 1, 2018 edition of the Progress Times

When the Agua Special Utility District starts installing new water meters next month, some customers may start paying higher bills.

New meters will allow the utility district to collect another $658,000 from customers who don’t currently receive accurate bills, according to an analysis conducted by an Indiana-based company called Performance Services Inc.

aguasudThe utility district plans to start replacing water meters during mid-July, said Interim General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz. Workers will notify individual customers when they replace water meters and provide information about the new system.

“We’re going to inform them and let them know,” Saenz said, adding that the new system will allow customers to keep tabs on day-to-day water consumption with wireless technology.

Performance Services recommended replacing nearly 15,000 mechanical water meters with magnetic water meters.
Without any moving parts, the magnetic meters last longer than mechanical meters.

Magnetic technology also provides more accurate readings when water flow is low, according to a study published in the American Water Works Association journal.

Based on data provided by the utility district, Performance Services estimated 10 to 12 percent of all water passing through meters wasn’t actually billed, Saenz said. Installing magnetic meters would allow the utility district to measure and bill for that water.

The impact on individual customers will vary based on water usage and the existing mechanical meter.

Customers with older mechanical meters may pay $3 to $5 more every month when the utility district installs magnetic meters, Saenz said. Customers with newer mechanical meters may experience smaller increases every month.

Bills will reflect actual water consumption, but water rates will not change as a result of the new meters, Saenz said.

The utility district plans to pay for the magnetic water meters with a combination of higher revenue and cost savings.

“This is basically budget neutral,” Saenz said.

Installing new water meters will increase revenue by nearly $658,000 annually, according to the Performance Services report, which the utility district released in response to a public information request from the Progress Times.

The utility district agreed to pay $75,000 for the Performance Services report, according to a letter of intent signed by utility board President Roger Hernandez.

Performance Services guaranteed that higher revenue and lower costs would cover payments on the new water meters.

That reduced risk for the utility district and made the board more comfortable that Performance Services could deliver, Saenz said.

Along with the revenue projection, the report also identified several ways to save money.

Performance Services determined the utility district could eliminate three meter reader positions, saving $96,000 annually, according to the report.

Through a combination of attrition and other opportunities, the utility district will avoid layoffs, Saenz said. The utility district will offer meter readers other jobs, including operator positions at water and sewer treatment plants.

“We’re looking at that now,” Saenz said.

Performance Services also recommended installing new LED lights, which would reduce power consumption — and cut the utility district’s electric bill by $24,000 annually.

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