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March 30, 2011

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Water Meter Report Sparks Questions

MeterGalen Kusic
Staff Writer

At the recent Rio Vista City Council meeting, City Manager Hector De La Rosa gave a power point presentation as to why the city will be installing radio frequency additions to 500 homes.

In the report, there were some controversial subjects. According to a quote given to Bernie Durman 18 months ago by Sensus through its distributor Golden State Flow Measurement, which was confirmed by CEO Jim Henry three months ago; information on prices of additions to the meters did not add up with the report.

According to De La Rosa’s report, he estimates water meter upgrade costs as follows: For the purchase of a Sensus touch read, De La Rosa estimated a cost of $281 per meter, but Sensus stated that the cost is $138 per meter. De La Rosa also estimated the radio read at $292 per meter, but the actual bid was only $275 per meter.

“These costs in the report we got back in 2007,” said De La Rosa. “These are not the newest prices we got from GSFM.”

Instead of going with the current meter manufacturer, De La Rosa  and the Council have chosen to upgrade meters to Itron RF meters - at half the cost of the Sensus meters. He stands by his report and numbers listed in it.

“People are making this into an egregious thing,” said Rio Vista Mayor Jan Vick. “If I buy an Apple computer, do I have to buy an Apple printer? No. There should be no problem; companies do this all the time. Sensus made their meters compatible with different radio read technology.”

According to GSFM representative Pete Lopez, this is true, but he explains the drawback of using a competitor’s technology with Sensus technology.

“You can make it work with adapters, but it’s never going to work 100 percent like if it was the same manufacturer,” he said.

In De La Rosa’s report, he compares the radio read technology to other cities such as Roseville (115,000), Lodi (63,000) and North Lake Tahoe (3,700).
North Lake Tahoe is unique in that they need radio frequency meters because they cannot find meters during winter months. Officials from North Tahoe conveyed that water seeping into the meters has created a problem with correct meter readings.

“We will be installing fiberglass stakes that will be put in the meter box,” said De La Rosa. “It will be one inch below the meter lid to keep water out.”

Although this well help, meters are often below water level, causing water overflow.
Other cities mentioned included Manteca (64,000) and Gridley (6,200), none of which resemble Rio Vista’s topography or demographic.

“The reason I went to larger cities was to find out about the history of the Itron unit,” said De La Rosa. “I went there to determine the compatibility and efficiency of Itron. Everyone I talked to said it was efficient and rarely had mistakes. That is why we recommended radio frequency.”

Durman doesn’t buy it and is concerned that the upgrade to radio frequency will be a detriment to the city.

“The proposed radio read (drive by) technology is not appropriate for the demographics of a town of less than 9,000 inhabitants with the majority of the water meters in close proximity to each other, either now or in the foreseeable future,” said Durman.
Vick assured the River News-Herald that indeed it is. Vick claims that the City is estimated to grow to at least 20,000 once developers start building homes again. She also acknowledged the easy use of golf carts with touch read in Trilogy, but explained that the rest of Rio Vista is not designed like Trilogy.

She felt it was a step in the right direction.

“If we are having our employees doing the reading, radio read is the most cost effective and efficient,” said Vick. “We would have to higher more staff if we used touch read. Trilogy is half of Rio Vista right now, but it won’t be. We are looking toward the future.”

Durman, who has studied this issue in depth for the past two years, is strongly opposed to the idea. In a simulated touch read, Durman was able to read 208 meters in Trilogy in one hour on foot.

“Hector has bamboozled the Council,” said Durman. “He assured me he was going to touch read, but went to radio frequency instead. I feel very strongly we are going to get screwed if we go down this road.”

Durman explained that he actually wrote a request for proposal (RFP) to Sensus for De La Rosa, but when the actual request went in, it had been completely altered from its original state to reflect the radio read, also alluding to a fully automatic GPS system.
Other disputed information in the report includes De La Rosa’s findings that touch read results would increase labor costs, increase workers compensation claims, and create longer periods of time to read meters.

“In the long run, $70 more per home will be saving dollars,” said De La Rosa. “It will take two hours to read meters instead of six with touch read. None of the residents are paying for this upgrade, the City is.”

Durman contests that all of these claims are false. He believes that touch read would in fact reduce labor costs, have no effect on workers compensation claims, and take the same amount of time to read the meters by touch wand.

Vick stressed that Rio Vista has nothing to do with the water meter debacle in Atlanta, and that it was a quality control issue - an issue the city of Atlanta failed to achieve.
“We’re not doing what they did,” said Vick. “It’s up to us to order the right equipment and make sure it is installed correctly. If you have problems, you go back to the installer or Itron. They would be responsible.”

Lastly, Durman was critical of the city’s database, which was supposed to be completed before April of this year by California law. Instead, the City’s database cannot account for nearly 100 homes, where they cannot find a meter or get a reading.

“This was supposed to give the consumer a chance to prepare and conserve water,” said Durman. “Instead, they do not have an accurate database.”

To view De La Rosa’s report an get more information on what’s going on with the water and sewer improvement projects, visit the city’s website at www.rio-vista-ca.com.

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