STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
MARBLE FALLS — The city of Marble Falls plans to replace more than 3,300 water meters for customers in the 2018-19 fiscal year without interruptions of service.
However, while most residents might not notice the new meter or when the replacement even occurs, they will notice when nearly every gallon can be monitored.
As part of a $6.35 million bond to be issued Sept. 18, the city will replace water meters, retrofit lighting, and implement water customer portal software at a cost of $2,652,750. The remaining bond will go toward park improvements and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone projects.
The bond will be repaid over 15 years, and city staff anticipate savings from the more efficient meters to basically pay for itself.
In the first year alone, the city projects increased revenues of about $170,000 by capturing revenue lost to inefficient meters and reducing the manual cost of employees reading meters. Current meters sometimes only charge customers for 10,000 gallons of water when 11,000 gallons were actually used. With more new readers guaranteed to be 98.5 percent accurate, the city should recoup the cost of the true amount of water used.
More savings will come from a reduction in employees needed just to take meter readings.
“We’ll reduce those (two) positions to where it’s just one, mainly just a service technician,” said Marble Falls Director of Finance Margie Cardenas. “The other person will probably be relocated to a vacant position within public works.”
The project is contracted with Siemens Industry to take place over the next year. The meters have no moving parts and will be monitored remotely. They’ll also come with a 20-year warranty.
“If it goes out, we have to replace the entire meter, but warranting it, we have a good feeling the meters will last a long time,” Cardenas said.
The remote readings mean the city and customers can accurately monitor water use, and in a more timely fashion.
Current meters are checked once a month, which means a high-usage month or water leak won’t be detected until the meter is read.
At the Capital Improvement Plan Committee meeting Aug. 23, Assistant City Manager Caleb Kraenzel told committee members about the project. Part of the presentation focused not only on the meters but also the web-based platform for metering and usage.
“If you’re going out of town, you can say your house shouldn’t use more than 100 gallons or you want a text,” he said. “Or, if you don’t want your bill to go over a certain amount, you can go to the (online) portal. If, at 10 p.m., water consumption takes a spike, you’ll know it looks like there’s a leak.”
The meters and online system also will help with conservation efforts during water restrictions. Customers and the city will be able to accurately monitor if usage percentage goals are being met.
“If we don’t see it, we’ll know people are abusing that and not following the rules,” Cardenas said.
Monitoring water restrictions, currently, is difficult. The new system gives the city a tool with concrete data to show a customer.
Work on the project likely won’t begin until October. The city and Siemens have a meeting scheduled for Sept. 6 to create a detailed timetable for the work. Residents and water customers will receive more information about the new meters and online portal in September.
The budget will have a second reading during City Council’s regular meeting Sept. 4 before it’s scheduled to be adopted Sept. 18.