Wichita to begin updating 150,000 residential water meters

09/01/2012 12:21 PM

09/01/2012 12:21 PM

More accurate water bills are the goal of a $32 million project that will get under way Tuesday when workers begin replacing water meters and meter readers at homes across Wichita.

Contractors gave a demonstration of how meters will be changed out during the five-year project during a news conference Friday in the 400 block of South Green.

About 150,000 meters will be updated, said Alan King, director of public works and utilities for Wichita.

The project is part of the city’s capital improvement plan and will be paid for by water rates.

It stems from complaints about the accuracy, consistency and timeliness of water bills. During public meetings about water rate increases, residents expressed concerns about variations in water bills and their accuracy, King said.

Older meters often malfunctioned, King said, sometimes even getting stuck. The city then would have to try to guess at consumption.

More than half of the city’s water meters still are read manually by city workers. Homes where meters are read manually will get new readers that can capture and record data every hour.

Eventually, everyone will have a new meter and a new meter reader. Some of the automatic readers still have useful life, King said, and those will be replaced toward the end of the project.

The new meters and meter readers will help ensure that bills are accurate, King said.

If a homeowner disputes a bill, the city will be able to go back and look at the hourly data. The data also will help the city track leaks and notify customers that they might have a problem somewhere at a faucet or appliance.

Changing out a meter will take 10 to 15 minutes, although workers demonstrating the process did so in about three-and-a-half minutes Friday morning.

Water service at each house will be out about 15 minutes during the upgrades.

Workers will try to make contact with homeowners but will leave a hang tag on a door explaining the project if no one is home.

King stressed that workers for the company contracted by the city to update the system, National Meter and Automation Inc., will wear neon green shirts and have identification badges. They also will drive trucks with the city’s and the company’s logos. They will not ask to come into anyone’s home and will not ask for money to replace a meter. If someone claiming to be replacing a meter asks for money or asks to come into a home, residents should call police, King said.

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