Potable Water Billing
Cellular Network Maximizes Efficiency for Augusta Water
Case Study / 6 min read
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Potable Water Billing
Case Study / 6 min read
Provides water and sewer service to a mostly rural service in Augusta County, Va., including 10 separate water systems.
Water consumption data is available at 1- or 0.1-gallon resolution compared to the 1,000-gallon resolution of the past.
With a cellular solution from Badger Meter, the utility was able to regain efficiency for billing while ensuring safety for meter technicians.
Although Augusta Water serves an area of roughly 971 square miles, it employs only 117 people to serve 15,849 water customers and 9,481 sewer customers. Augusta Water maintains 10 separate water systems, including seven microfiltration treatment systems and a water distribution network comprised of over 421 miles of water mains, 2,046 fire hydrants, 236 miles of gravity sewer mains, and 21 miles of sewer force main. Prior to the meter upgrade project and transition to a cellular network, technicians were spending several hours traveling to conduct reads at remote locations, where meters were often hard to locate and even harder to read.
“Water was getting into the registers, and it would corrupt the meter readings or the reading electronics in the meters so that instead of being touch-read, we were basically left with direct-read meters,” said Casey McCracken, Director of Information Technology with Augusta Water. “Our technicians were wading through water, spiders and gross stuff in a meter box to be able to pull a read that they could barely see.”
Spiders weren’t the only critter of concern for utility employees out in the field. One water line runs directly through a llama farm, and the meter box is in the middle of a field filled with the naturally inquisitive animals.
“The meter techs hated going there,” McCracken, who served as a “llama watcher” on several trips to the farm said. “There is a finicky gate you’ve got to get through to read the meter, you've got to make sure that the llamas aren't near you, because they will come right up to you and make their presence known. We wanted to take the meter techs out of that situation and just have the read come in automatically.”
Augusta Water began looking at ways to leverage technology to increase efficiency and improve safety while continuing to serve their ratepayers.
To evaluate various meter-reading technologies, the utility looked at the cost of replacing some of its touch-read meters and even piloted a few systems, including a drive-by solution from another vendor. Though this would increase the reading efficiency, it would not decrease the number of truck rolls required to properly bill for water usage. A cellular solution would save both time and fuel charges for the utility, as reads are recorded in 15-minute intervals and data is automatically transmitted to the utility’s office securely via existing cellular infrastructure.
“When we piloted the cellular solution, we put Recordall® positive displacement meters on several of our board members’ homes and signed them up for the EyeOnWater® consumer engagement platform. Two of our board members had leaks that were unknown to them before the pilot,” McCracken said. “We probably would not have been able to pinpoint these leaks without this data, and we were able to bring the usefulness of the app alive for our board members in a way we never could have with a PowerPoint or handout.”
With these results, the Board of Directors approved a meter replacement project throughout the service area, utilizing the cellular network solution from Badger Meter.
A previous meter replacement project in the early 1990s was managed using a paper process that was time-consuming and prone to errors. Utility staff remembered the difficulties of the previous installation, and work began early to bring the in-house IT team into the conversation. Digital file sharing and integration with the utility’s already robust GIS system was identified as a requirement for any new software system.
BEACON® Software as a Service (SaaS) was able to provide Augusta Water with the data collection, integration and verification necessary to move forward.
Today, ORION® Cellular endpoints deliver data to the platform in 15-minute intervals up to four times per day, compared with one read every two months with the previous system. Where leaks had gone undetected for up to two months at a time, BEACON now provides alerts for 24 hours of continuous usage.
Data resolution has also improved, now available at 1- or 0.1-gallon resolution compared to the 1,000-gallon resolution of the past. Using BEACON, Augusta Water can view and manage assets remotely, quickly responding to issues such as leaks.
“As we were looking to change out our meters, we really saw this as an opportunity to improve customer service,” McCracken said. “Before, our customer interactions could be clinical: ‘Here's your bill, here’s your second notice, here's a tag, we're going to turn you off.’ We just didn't have the information available to help our customers understand their bills—but with the cellular solution, we have all this information available now.”
With BEACON and EyeOnWater, customers now have access to the same information as the utility. Citizens can set their own notifications and respond to issues as they happen, giving them better control over their usage and bill.
“The most common customer question everybody in customer service gets is ‘Why is my bill so high?’ And when I only had a read from today and two months ago, I could only make general observations about what might have caused it,” McCracken said, “Now, I can actually look at some data trends to suggest an answer, which builds a lot of confidence and trust with our customers.”
With smart water solutions from Badger Meter, Augusta Water has been able to do more than just optimize billing and improve operations. Most recently, Augusta Water used the improved data to update water modeling efforts and McCracken and his team continue to look for new ways to take advantage of the information they receive.
“We're here to provide service to the citizens of Augusta County in the best way possible,” McCracken said. “That means being as efficient as possible and trying to keep our rates as low as possible—and accurate metering is part of that. This technology really helps us maximize efficiency.”