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Auto water meter system approved
System will detect leaks, eliminate usage estimations
water meter meeting pic
Great Bend City Administrator Kendal Francis, left, explains automated water meter reading systems to the City Council Monday night. At right is City Attorney Alan Glendenning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

The City of Great Bend’s long-running water meter reading woes my be coming to an end following action by the City Council Monday night. 

Approved was a bid from Zenner USA of Banning, Calif., for an automated meter reading system and related infrastructure at a cost of $2,461,631.70. This is, however, pending Kansas Department of Health and Environment review and approval of bid.

In April, the council authorized Mayor Cody Schmidt to sign a Kansas Public Water Supply Loan Fund agreement with the KDHE to fund the project. This will be A 20-year, fixed-interest-rate loan with no penalty for pre-payment.  

“Earlier this year we released the bid for the automated meter reading (AMR) system with an additional alternate for the related automated meter infrastructure (AMI),” said Public Works Director Jason Cauley. Bids were received and opened June 28, with Zenner’s being the lowest of four proposals.

With this system, water use for the city’s roughly 6,500 users is beamed directly to the Water Office at the Front Door Facility, he said. Usage can be read and tracked in real-time.

“Customers will have improved accuracy and control over water use,” Cauley said. “It will read “every drop of water used.” 

This will eliminate the need to estimate water usage, and leaks can be spotted and addressed immediately.

Cauley said this could mean more revenue for the city which operates the water network. It could, however, also mean higher bills for consumers.

There is an annual cost of $10,274 associated with the system for data hosting, software, maintenance to collectors, repeaters, etc. This cost would not go into effect until the third year of service as two years of service maintenance is included into the bid price. 

Cellular usage through Verizon is also an additional cost of $300 per year. No FCC licensing required. 

There will be no additional cost for leasing space on towers as equipment will be installed on city properties – the water tower at the airport and City Hall.

Zenner representatives, present at Monday’s meeting, estimated the city would save $570,000 per year with the system paying for itself in under five years. 

“I think technology is the answer,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said, noting that even if there is a 10-year pay-off, it is worth the cost. He has long advocated for using such a system.

References were checked with municipalities within the state – Halstead and Ulysses. Both entities are currently using Zenner and gave complimentary reviews regarding ease of work, customer service, and quality of product. 

Customer service officials from both municipalities said any problems encountered were met with quick responses and resolutions. Zenner USA has representatives in the Pratt who have worked with the city, Cauley said.

The benefits of this system include:

• The city would recognize an annual savings of $49,483 in salaries and benefits. They are authorized for two full-time meter readers, but currently one position is vacant. That position will be eliminated and the other employee will be reclassified to a service person/meter technician.

• Instant data (on-demand reads) will be available to billing staff in the case of a dispute.

• Revenue is projected to increase 2-3% with the elimination of aged meters that have lost accuracy. This is especially a problem with larger meters.

• All meters changed out will be sold or scrapped and sold for salvage.

• There will be an increase in accuracy with water loss data as the meters can detect to a fraction of a gallon.

• A Customer Portal option could be made available, at an additional monthly cost to the customer, to take a proactive role in monitoring their water usage.

• It integrates with the city water billing system.

• There are anti-tampering measures to prevent abuse.

• The meters can be upgraded as software and technology improves.

• Many of the newer meters used in the city can be adapted to work with AMI.

• The meters are under a 15-year/1.5 million gallon warranty. They can be set up on a rotational replacement schedule.

Zenner officials said they can start almost immediately and will be done by February, weather permitting.

Staffing issues and aging infrastructure have made the timely and accurate reading of the city’s water meters a long-running issue.

Last June, city council agreed to explore the installation of an automated meter reading system and approved an application for a $2.2 million loan from the KPWSLF to fund the venture. The application was approved in October 2021.