San Diego
Image credit: Stock

San Diego city officials have unveiled new equipment to test the accuracy of residential and commercial water meters.

Representatives of the Public Utilities Department said the new device will ensure the tens of thousands of new meters are reliable, as well as older devices suspected of being faulty.

The new digital testing bench is made by MARS Company and costs approximately $400,000.

It pumps water through up to 22 meters at a time, allowing workers to compare readings on a meter’s dial with a digitally calculated benchmark.

According to Water Systems district manager, Johnny Mitchell, the new testing equipment is not as cumbersome to operate as the previous equipment.

“The old bench served us well over the years, however, it’s labour intensive,” Mitchell said. “You have to really just stand around and monitor the progress of the testing.”

Tom Howard, deputy director of water construction and maintenance for the Public Utilities Department stated: “You have just a higher degree of precision, which helps us take the human factor out of this to a much higher degree than with the old system”.

Howard mentioned that they are not yet sure if aging infrastructure and technology was the cause of rising water bills.

When asked about the number of meters found to be inaccurate, Howard declined to confirm but stated: “we’ve got the data, I just haven’t analysed it yet”.

The department is testing about 5% of all new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) smart meters before they’re installed, according to officials.

Howard confirmed that testing has given the city no reason to believe that the new technology is unreliable.

“We know these things are working,” he said. “We have not been able to tie anything to the smart meters whatsoever.”

This meter testing drive aims to address consumer concerns about rising water bills that have recently jumped hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

The department has replaced more than 90,000 of the city’s roughly 280,000 service connections with smart meters, with a full roll out of the system expected by early 2020.

A public outcry came after 343 meters were misread, leading to over $100,000 in overcharges.

Since February, San Diego city has offered free meter testing to customers who are concerned about meter accuracy.

The city has also hired a third-party agency to look into potential overcharges, as well as assigned members of its Performance and Analytics Department to review customer billing data.

“They’re going to help us to see if there’s anything in the customer billing that might help us come to a root cause of what was creating those spikes,” said Brent Eidson, deputy director of external affairs for the Public Utilities Department.