Petersburg water meters installed

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

PETERSBURG - This town of nearly 600 residents has been working for more than a year to have new water meters installed to accurately monitor water sales, town consultants said recently.

"The reason we went in is because they did a leak detection study," said Lisa Cross, a community development specialist with the South Central Tennessee Community Development District. "Losses were mostly because of aging meters."

The Community Development District office in Columbia is administering a $94,000 grant that Petersburg received in December 2007 from Gov. Phil Bredesen during a ceremony in Fayetteville. The town is matching the grant with $6,000 to have $100,000 for new meters, to find leaks and make repairs.

The $6,000 "is one of the lowest matches we've had to make in a long time," Mayor John Cowden said nearly 13 months ago, explaining the utility's fund balance, not taxes, is what will pay for the match.

Petersburg's water system was started in 1927. City records show their utility lost 36 percent of the water bought from Fayetteville in 2006.

Practically all the customer water meters in the town will be replaced through the program administered by Cross who said 380 meters were ordered. Some may not be bought. It depends on how many are needed.

The work is supervised by the town's consulting engineer, Kim Eakes, an employee of Griggs & Maloney, an environmental engineering firm based in Murfreesboro.

"It's very common to have to replace aging meters to reduce your water losses," Eakes said.

Most of meters being replaced were installed before the Great Depression.

"Usually, around 20 years" pass before a meter would lose accuracy, Eakes said.

The replacement meters' technology is very different for meter readers who have, for years, had to open a meter box door and look at a meter that's just under the surface of a customer's front yard.

"These are called 'Touch Read' meters," Eakes said comparing the data collection system to a new way of making retail purchases at stores across the nation.

"It's more like a smart computer card," she said, contrasting the system to a grocery store's bar-code reading system with payment by a credit or debit card's magnetic strip being swiped through a card reader.

"There is a signal transmitted," she continued. "You don't have to swipe anything visually. You just have to get close."

A hand-held device is used by the meter reader, she said.

"One of the advantages of an AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) system is that data is transferred electronically," Eakes said, explaining that this eliminates human error.

The transition from visual monitoring of water meters to the electronic AMR system should be complete by April, she said.

Installation was about half complete, she reported recently.

Some systems have meters read by a radio transmission so a meter reader can collect data while driving by with a laptop computer, or similar device. For example, all new meters being installed by residential subdivision developers for homes to be served by the Bedford County Utility District are required to install radio transmission meters. BCUD has a long-term meter replacement program for the rest of its meters.

In Petersburg, a survey was conducted in 2006 to ascertain the number of households that could be classified as having low to moderate incomes, Cross said of what was done to prepare the town for its application for the federal CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding for new meters.

"Once it's approved," Cross said of the CDBG money, "we administer the grant process and make sure the contractors are working."

Bids were opened five months ago for the contracts being paid by the federal money, Cross continued.

As the town's consulting engineer, Griggs & Maloney is being paid by the grant, Cross indicated.

Kendall Metering, based in Lawrenceville, Ga., has a Nashville office and was awarded a $47,322 contract for the meters, Cross said.

Hawkins & Price of Wartrace got the contract to install the meters, she said, listing that cost at $22,030. Other installation bidders included Contracting Services of Culleoka at $43,560, and HD Supply Branch 28 of Murfreesboro at $37,994.

Jonathan Pruitt Construction of Lawrenceburg is the subcontractor for Hawkins & Price to install the meters.

Brewer Brothers Consruction of Frankewing, Giles County, has the contract to inspect the meters' replacement, Cross said.

"Hopefully, this will correct a lot of their water loss," Cross said.

Losses are attributed to "a little of both:" aging meters and leaks at meters, she said.

Eakes said some homes' meter boxes are being replaced, and some of those may include some new piping and fittings.

Other water losses, she said, could include water used by the fire department when fighting a fire or during training exercises, or simply filling the fire truck's tank, she indicated.

Eakes reports to the Petersburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen. That panel is routinely scheduled to meet on the second Monday of each month in the Town Hall.