The City of Bishop is considering a change to a new wireless water meter that would change how the city accumulates usage data, while also giving residents the ability to monitor their water use online.

Travis Crispe, with Metron-Farnier, made a presentation to the Bishop City Council about his company's smart water meter units on Wednesday. The system would attach to existing water meters, but comes with cell phone radios that allow for the wireless transmission of water usage data on a regular basis. The system can also detect water leaks or periods of inactivity and send notifications via e-mail to account holders, he said.

"This becomes a huge customer service tool for the utilities (system)," Crispe said. "When someone comes to the city here and says, 'I couldn't have used all this water,' well now we can show you not only did you use it, but how you used it, where the water has gone and how you can be more efficient."

The proposed system runs through a web browser, so it would be accessible to anyone with an Internet-connected device, like a smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop computer, Crispe said. He said the system would automatically upload usage data to the city daily and would monitor residents' use regularly to determine if there is suspicious water usage that might indicate a leak or other issue.

The biggest benefit is the transparency it would allow Bishop residents, Crispe said, as it would allow them to actively monitor their own water usage at all times. That could be a benefit for residents still upset after city officials learned in August that a former employee had submitted faulty water meter readings over an unknown period of time.

The city later said residents impacted by the employee's actions had actually been underpaying for their water and asked most to pay adjusted balances.

"Nothing sneaks up on them anymore," Crispe said. "Really, you see a decrease in the calls to complain about bills and for the ones that do still come in to ask questions, you're able to answer them right then and there."

Mayor Tem MIller said the system could have its benefits for the city by making its water meter reading system more efficient for taxpayers.

"Instead of having meter readers out in the field costing us $10 or $12 an hour, we can have some clerks inside (City Hall) pull it up on their computer and run it all," Miller said .

The only unknown for the city is the cost for the program, which under the cheapest plan offered would cost $187 for each new unit, with the city getting the first year of data service from Verizon Wireless for free. Data service would cost $12 annually after that point, or $1 per month, Crispe said.

In addition, the system might not be compatible with some of the city's existing water meters, so those would need to be replaced in their entirety, city officials said. If introduced, the program would likely be implemented in phases over an extended period of time, but city leaders asked that the city look into a pilot program of just 25 meters to see how the system works locally.

"I personally have always been in favor of something like this," City Council Member Albert Guajardo, who previously served as the city's Public Works director, said. "I can see the benefits to having something like this. It's so much easier and we get (more) accurate readings."

However, Council Member Lee Roy Kieschnick pointed out that with about 1,200 water meters in the city's existing utility system, making a switch would be costly, particularly if the city opts to keep the two employees it currently has taking meter readers now. Crispe said it takes cities an average of five to six years before they see a firm return on investment.

"Don't get me wrong, I like the idea, but I don't like the cost," Kieschnick said.

"I can see this working," Guajardo later replied. "If we know that (the meters) are running accurately, I can see where we can make that money (back) pretty quick. I can see it."

"When you get into doing new meters in places where they've been broken and you've been giving away water for a long time, the payback comes a lot quicker," Crispe added.

City officials took no action on Crispe's presentation, but asked city officials to gather more information on a possible pilot program for the future. The system would not replace Bishop's billing system, so monthly bills would still need to be sent out, Crispe added.

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