Calif. American Water Replaces Water Meters

California American Water has started work on a new meter replacement program, aimed at reducing water loss in its Monterey distribution system, which has faced strict, government-mandated water restrictions for more than a decade.

The program, at an approximate cost of $5.5 million, will install 7,500 new meters by 2011. The project will keep the Monterey water system in compliance with California Public Utilities Commission rules that require replacement of meters according to their size and age. Most residential meters, connected to home service lines less than one-inch in diameter, have to be replaced after 20 years of service.

"As meters age, they slow down," explained General Manager Craig Anthony. "These replacements will improve the accuracy of our readings and reduce unaccounted for water losses."

The Monterey District of California American Water, which serves the various communities of the Monterey Peninsula, has been under mandates to reduce its pumping from the primary local water source, the Carmel River, since the State Water Resources Control Board issued an order limiting the company's water rights in 1995. There are two threatened species on the Carmel River: the Central Coast Steelhead Trout and California Red Legged Frog, protected by NOAA Fisheries and California Department of Fish and Game, respectively. In 2006, a judge also ordered reductions in pumping of the area's secondary water source, the Seaside Basin.

As part of its response to these restrictions, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has imposed a goal of 7 percent for unaccounted water delivered by California American Water's system, which has a current water-loss rate of 12 percent. Unaccounted water is generally attributed to water lost through leaks, overflows, incorrect meter readings, and un-metered uses such as water for fire fighting.

"Getting our water losses down is a top priority," said Anthony. "We'll be accomplishing this not only through our meter replacement program but also through pipe replacements and new technology to help us detect leaks."

The replacement program offers several new technological advancements. The meters themselves are "automatic read," meaning that meter numbers can be ascertained through "drive-by" technology, with consumption figures automatically registered on meter readers' handheld devices when they drive by a meter site. This innovation will save time and labor and reduce the potential for errors.

In addition, while meters are being replaced, listening stations will be installed at every 10th meter throughout the system. Using advanced acoustic monitoring devices, the stations will record frequencies associated with water leaks during four-hour overnight periods. The technology allows utilities to identify problematic underground infrastructure before it fails. The data collected by the listening stations will be sent daily via a radio transmitter signal to the local operations center for analysis.

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