Funding is in place for the City of Cortez to embark on a $1.2 million replacement of more than 3,000 manually read water meters with automated meters.
Mayor Karen Sheek and City Council approved loan and grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board at the April 14 council meeting.
Through this project, the city intends to replace its current meters with automated meter readers, which use radios to collect data via a drive-by or a fixed-base receiver on every metered account in the city’s system.
The project is being funded through $250,000 in grants from the CWCB and the Department of Local Affairs, $350,000 from the city’s fund balance and $850,000 loan from the CWCB. Once bids are opened in mid-May, there will be a more precise picture of exactly how much the city will need to borrow via loan funding, said Phil Johnson, director of Public Works. It’s likely to be less than the $850,000 total.
“This is the maximum amount and maximum annual debt service we’ll see for a 10-year period ... and we’ll potentially increase revenues by more accurate meter reading over the course of the first 10 years,” said Johnson.
The Public Works Department contends that the replacement project will bring the water meter system into the future with more streamlined billing and data management. It also says that it encourages conservation by providing users with more accurate water-consumption information.
Currently, meters are read manually each month, which requires two full-time employees and assigned trucks. Data is collected using remotely mounted odometers for all 3,400 meters in the system and are visited physically by the two employees.
This method of collecting billing data is inefficient and leaves way for human error, untimely reading/billing, and provides only static information, he said.
“It takes two people full-time, an entire month to read all meters in the city... (with automatic meters) we get data in real time, and they provide us with a means to alert customers if there’s a leak, backflow, high-flow, low-flow,” he said. “Right now, we get static information.”
About 157 meters require relocation from under the building to behind the sidewalk in “meter pits” before the bigger meter replacement project can begin. Those home or business owners will be notified by the Public Works Department.
After the bid period in mid-May, work is expected to begin early summer. The entire system is expected to be on automatic meters by October.
In place of the two public works positions charged with meter reading, the city is creating one a meter technician position, which will be offered to one of the two employees in those roles, Johnson said.
The employees were notified of the changes nine months in advance.
The Public Works Department will be providing regular updates on the project on the City of Cortez website, he noted, but stressed that it’s a necessary change in a time where water conservation is crucial.
“It’s a step into the future going to help us run our operation more effectively and it’s an efficient tool to help Cortez save water,” he said.