Automatic Meter Reading Case Study: The City of Chicago Department of Water Management
[Presentation PDF]
IEPA ID#: 5161
Room: B170
Time: 1:00 - 1:45PM CST
Presenter: Andrea Putz & Matt Quinn, City of Chicago Department of Water Management

Moderator: Kevin Lookis

Under the 2003 Chicago Water Agenda a plan was established to protect, conserve and manage the water resources of the area. Under this plan, Chicago aimed to become the leader among the Great lakes cities in managing the vast available water supply efficiently and productively. Out of almost half a million accounts, only 174,580 accounts were metered at the time. In order to properly manage our water resource, a plan was devised that included not only changing non-metered accounts into metered accounts but also managing meter reading in a more effective and efficient way. The City of Chicago Department of Water Management (DWM) investigated best practices for reading meters effectively, uncovered potential issues and difficulties regarding water losses, and educated the customers regarding water conservation.

Given the large number of accounts to be read, Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) was chosen as the pre-requisite to any kind of universal metering plan. There was a need to get more actual reads (as opposed to estimated reads) on existing meters as well as read any newly-metered accounts. It would not be efficient to hire additional meter reading staff to manually read an additional 320,000 newly-metered accounts. Thus, a case study of different Midwestern cities that recently installed AMR systems was conducted. Information was gathered regarding cost, specifications, public relations, strategies and implementation challenges.

A detailed case study was also conducted regarding the type and age distribution of existing meters, the billing system, back end software. A key conclusion was that an effective system for data collection should include customer friendly notifications, such as leak detection and storage of water usage data to help customers understand the importance of water and reduce the wasted water. Another conclusion was to change the billing units from cubic feet to gallons to help customers more easily understand the amount of water they were using.

Thus a mobile Badger Orion AMR system was proposed which would allow DWM rate takers to read the meter effectively without going inside customers’ houses (by using Meter Interface Units which broadcast data using radio frequency signals). With this system, it is possible to accurately read almost 98% of the meters, detect tampering and flow reversals, detect potential leaks and send an automatic letter to customers letting them know about the potential leak, and show their historic water usage data on graph.

A pilot of conducted using 400 meters in Fall 2007 which was helpful in identifying possible large-scale challenges. Full implementation started February 2008 with an average of 1,200 to 1,500 meters replaced or retrofitted per week. The duration of this project was three years and is currently in the clean up phase. As of November 2011, over 150,000 meters have been replaced or retrofitted so far.