A town in New York state recently provided a case study on how new billing systems can uncover complex problems for water utilities.
“In the wake of apparent management failures in its water department, the town of Avon is engaged in a painstaking review to determine one basic thing: Where the world did all their drinking water go?” the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
“When town officials began implementing a new billing system this spring, they made the alarming discovery that customers’ water-meter readings and their quarterly bills didn’t mesh,” the report said.
The problem cut two ways: Some customers were receiving free water, while others may have been overpaying, the report said. Water meters were at the center of the challenge. Some homes did not have working meters, while many water meters went unread for long periods, the report said.
“Some received a benefit they didn’t pay for, and others made up for it. I see this as an obligation to try to reconcile whatever those differences are," said town attorney James Campbell, per the report.
"People are, understandably, going to be upset," he said. "The town does not intend to hide from that."
The city brought in Bonadio Group to audit water-service accounts. Bonadio says it provides a range of consulting services, including auditing.
"We want to do the right thing. We're taking the action we need to take," said town supervisor David LeFeber.
Avon is a clear example of the difficulties of managing a water system in a small town. Only 7,000 people live in Avon.
“The town government's water system serves only about 3,000 of those souls via roughly 700 discreet residential and business accounts. The village of Avon, whose somewhat larger water system is separate and does its own billing, serves another 3,000 people,” the report said.
Avon is not the only city struggling with its meter and billing systems. The water industry, in general, has been slow to adopt the latest meter technology, experts say. Cost, of course, is a major concern.
“[The cost of installing a smart meter is a] heavy lift no matter what the size of the utility,” George Hawkins, DC Water’s chief executive officer and general manager, told Bloomberg BNA in a recent report.
Other concerns about adopting the latest technologies include security and a lack of trust in automated processes, according to a new report by consultants at Black & Veatch.
Image credit: "Water Meter" Jeff Kramer © 2005, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/