Deeply nestled in the state of Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) is ranked one of the nation’s best-operated water systems for continuously meeting the high expectations and future needs of its customers and municipal governments.
In fact, just a few years ago, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) recognized DMWW by awarding it the prestigious AMWA Gold Award.
How did DMWW achieve such recognition? One initiative was the successful implementation and utilization of a wireless fixed-network automatic meter reading (AMR) system.
With approximately 75,000 water meters in its service area, DMWW continuously looked for ways to cost effectively obtain accurate meter reads and positively affect customer service performance. Their search began as early as the late 1980s when DMWW installed telephone-based AMR. Because this technology depended on active phone service, over time it became difficult to maintain. In the more transient areas especially, customers tended to change numbers without alerting DMWW during the read-bill cycle.
To combat this problem, in 2000 DMWW became aggressive by seeking out a more efficient and cost-effective means of reading meters. The goal was to reduce meter reading labor costs, eliminate billings based on estimated reads, and reduce service trips to properties for special reads.
An extended pilot program was outlined to determine the best technology to meet DMWW’s overall needs. After a comprehensive study, Hexagram’s STAR Fixed-Network AMR System fit the bill.
With the STAR System in place, performance was better than anticipated, so well in fact, that DMWW decided to forgo a long trial period. The recommendation to the DMWW Board of Trustees was to begin full implementation of the system throughout the service area. To date, DMWW has successfully deployed over 37,000 AMR units.
One benefit of the AMR system has been the significant reduction of meter reading labor hours and the associated costs. For example, in October 2001, it took over 1,138 hours to read DMWW’s entire service area.
In the areas where the fixed-network system is deployed, meter reading labor hours and costs were essentially eliminated. The AMR system has also proven to be beneficial for resolving accounts that are difficult to read such as those with unfriendly dogs or with restricted access to the remote reading device.
"With the system providing daily reads, we have been more effective when dealing with customers who are disputing high billing issues," stated L.D. McMullen, CEO and GM of DMWW. "When we pinpoint when the customer used a significant amount of water, they usually recall filling the pool or watering the lawn on the day
when the read indicated they used more water than normal."
McMullen also mentioned that another benefit obtained with daily information was the ability to detect water theft.
One real-life example involved a customer’s water meter was reversed for a week or so every month. With monthly reads, this activity was virtually impossible to detect. However, with a fixed-network system providing readings twice each day, this behavior became apparent.