Jerry Andree, Township Manager

Jerry Andree, Township Manager

No level of government has more impact on daily life than local government. That’s why my colleagues and I at Cranberry Township are passionate about pushing the limits of excellence to provide the best possible services to our residents and customers. However, being well-served is not a passive achievement; it is a collective undertaking. Through this blog, we offer our personal reflections on that assignment. And we hope it will help engage you in joining us on that same collaborative mission.

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Apr 20

What’s up with the water meters?

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 9:25 AM by Jerry Andree

People keep asking me: why is Cranberry taking this perfectly good water meter out of my home?  Has it fallen out of fashion?  Has it become a collectable?  Haven’t we learned anything from Pittsburgh’s awful experience?  Fair questions.  So let me take a stab at answering them.

First of all, an old meter is almost certainly not a ‘perfectly good’ meter.  Water meters, like computers, washing machines, cars and just about everything else, wear out.  In the case of water meters, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll break and flood your basement.  But it does mean that after 20 years or so, the readings it registers have become less and less reliable.  For the resident, that can be either good or bad, depending on whether it’s reading high or low.  But for the Township, that makes it harder to manage our water distribution system because we’re not sure how much water is actually being consumed, how much is leaking, or how much is being stolen from ratepayers.  

So we’re replacing all 8,000 of the old analog meters with new digital ones that are a lot more accurate, if not more fashionable.  They are paired with a transmitter on an outside wall of the home that sends the customer’s usage data into the Township office every day.  That means no estimated bills to pay, no meter reader tromping through your flower bed, and no guesswork about how much water you’re using.  In the near future, you’ll also have the opportunity to track your water consumption online, in near-real time – even when you’re away.  It will also allow us to notify you if we get data suggesting there’s a leak.  And when you eventually sell your home, we can provide you with an instant final reading.  So overall, it should be a better customer experience.  

What happens to the old meters?  Are people collecting them?  That’s doubtful, although I’ve actually seen a few meters which were repurposed as industrial-style artwork.  However, that’s rare.  What’s actually happening is that the brass from the old meters is being bought from the Township for reprocessing, and the income from that sale is being used to reduce the cost of the replacement units. 

But what about Pittsburgh’s experience?  Didn’t they have people getting astronomical water bills and a chorus of complaints about their new meters?  Yes.  And we’ve learned from it.  For example, we learned that water mains eventually fail, and that leaks can make meter readings meaningless.  Pittsburgh is a lot older than Cranberry, so its infrastructure is more prone to failure, but we also know that someday our own distribution lines will need replacement, too.  That’s why our field operations people are doing everything they can to postpone that day through good maintenance practices.  

We also learned that Pittsburgh used meters and accessories from different vendors that didn’t play nice with each other.  A lot of them weren’t installed right, and there were problems with radio signals not reaching where they should.  So, in addition to checking our entire distribution system for leaks twice a year, we’re getting all our meter technology from the same sources, we set and enforce standards for the installers, and we test each unit on site to make sure it actually works.  We’re eliminating estimated readings entirely so that problems are identified and corrected as quickly as possible.  

So that’s why we’re switching out our meters.  It’s relatively painless – the installer is in and out in less than 30 minutes; it comes at no additional cost to the customer because the meters belonged to the Township in the first place; it helps us conserve water; we can free our meter readers for other assignments; and it will allow our Public Works people to do an even better job of planning, maintaining, and delivering the water service our residents expect. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about our water system.  Write me at: jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org 

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