ELYRIA — A plan to replace every water meter in Elyria will soon switch gears from commercial properties to residential homes as the city moves to capture a more accurate reading of water usage.
The new meters will in most cases replace meters dating back to 1997, which is the last time the city underwent a water meter replacement project, said Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka.
“The water meters we use have outlived their useful life,” she said Tuesday during a presentation to City Council.
Cincinnati-based NECO Water is the contractor working to replace the meters in a $6 million project that started with commercial meters for heavy users. The project will take between 18 months and two years to convert more than 22,000 commercial and residential meters to new state-of-the-art meters, said Ray Schwartz, NECO sales manager.
The meters use radio-based technology that sends information to receivers placed around the city — most likely atop the city’s water towers — and removes the need to have water meters physically read. Schwartz said the information transmits faster and usage figures are more accurate.
“This system also gathers information on leaks and additional usage at the home to provide residents with warnings before a balloon bill comes,” Schwartz said. “It can detect a leaking toilet and tell you how that will impact the water bill.”
NECO is roughly 70 percent complete with the commercial side of the project and hopes to start residential properties in the late spring.
“When we get started in May or June, they will be able to install about 100 meters a day,” Siwierka said. “We will do it by appointment and make sure customers are home.”
In most cases, the installation will take about an hour.
While the short presentation did not give way to comments from residents in the room, Councilwoman Brenda Davis, D-2nd Ward, said she hoped the new meters would alleviate the concern among seniors that they are billed large flat rates regardless to how much water they use.
“I just hope for our residents who are not using the water that this is going to help them,” she said.
Siwierka said Council can choose to adjust the flat rate, which will remain even with the new meters.
“But I can say this will measure every drop and measure it more accurately,” she said.
Elyria is losing water and revenue.
The city’s 2013 performance audit said Elyria water loss was significant. In 2011, which was the year the report examined, the city billed nearly
$9.1 million to customers for water services and collected roughly $8.4 million for a collection rate of 93.7 percent. That same year, Elyria’s water pumping plant pumped 3.81 billion gallons of water, but the city reportedly billed customers for 2.826 billion gallons for a water loss percentage of 25.8 percent.
The industry standard is about 15 percent for systems of Elyria’s age, the audit said.
In addition to NECO Water, the city has contracted with Burges and Burges Strategist to handle resident communications on the project. President Vanessa Tey Iosue said direct mail, advertisements and yard signs will help to constantly inform residents and remind them to do their part by scheduling their appointments to have meters replaced. The goal is 100 percent compliance.
Siwierka said NECO will make multiple attempts to replace meters. When asked what would happen if a meter is not replaced, Siwierka pointed to a standard practice used in other communities.
“In other communities, water has been discontinued if the meter is not installed,” she said.