Using Automated Meter Reading to Prevent Water Theft

Water Law Resource
May 22, 2012 — 1,272 views  
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In the United States and around the world, water theft is a constant problem. Fortunately, automated meter reading (AMR) systems, also called smart meters, are changing the way utility companies detect and respond to meter tampering and water theft. According to the International Utilities Revenue Protection Association, losses related to theft and water leakage equal one to three percent of a utility's annual revenue. In some developing countries, this number is as high as 10 percent. Anti-water theft initiatives and conservation programs are leading to the widespread implementation of AMR systems.

New York City has already installed 824,000 smart meters, Scottsdale, AZ, has replaced more than 10 percent of the city's 88,000 water meters and the Philadelphia Water Department has been using AMR systems since 1999. According to the department's spokesperson, Philadelphia has saved an estimated $13 million in five years thanks to increased theft and leak-detection programs.

AMR technology makes it easier for utility providers to proactively identify and address water theft and to prevent losses caused by leaks and infrastructure issues. Officials in Scottsdale carefully considered options for installing AMR systems independently or hiring a specialized AMR contractor at a cost of $21 million to $25 million. Despite high implementation costs, annual operating expenses are expected to be $25,000, which would be funded through utility rates and the savings that AMR systems provide.

Smart meters are used widely in cities with saturated population levels, but they also increase efficiency in rural and suburban areas. Fixed-network AMR systems are the obvious choice in urban environments where network receivers can be placed on rooftops and locations with good reception. In cities like Scottsdale, mobile meter readers drive a route while receivers in their vehicles gather data. Using this method, meter readers can collect data from 24,000 meters in one day.

Fixed-network AMR systems are the best option for utility providers who want to receive real-time readings rather than monthly reports. These systems have 15-minute checkpoints that detect reversed flow, leaks and tampering as they happen. In Philadelphia, officials use AMR systems to detect consumers who illegally restore service after their connections are shut off.

These advanced systems detect all types of irregularities, including leaks, low pressure and instances where consumers bypass meters or remove meters entirely. AMR systems are 99.99 percent accurate and highly effective at preventing water theft and improving customer satisfaction.

Water Law Resource