Questions remain with new water meters

ALPENA – In 2010 Alpena Municipal Council hired Siemens to conduct an energy study. During the study the company randomly tested 50 meters in Alpena and claimed the meters were inaccurate by more than 20 percent. The council decided against hiring Siemens for $2.5 million to install new meters.

United Water did additional testing on old meters on its own and its results closely mirrored Siemens, so the utility company offered to loan the city $1.5 million to purchase and install approximately 4,600 new “smart” meters that would read the water consumption more accurately, thus increasing the city’s revenue. The council agreed and the new meters were installed.

To this point, preliminary results on readings and subsequent revenue are well below what was projected. Last month during a council meeting Gosling Czuback, which was hired to do a comprehensive water and sewer study, said the meters were only reading between seven and 10 percent higher than the old ones. United Water Operations Manager Mike Glowinski said there are several factors that could have led to the meters not producing as much as was anticipated and the meters haven’t been in place long enough to get a fair assessment of water consumption and payment.

“Their assessment was on the conservative side and what the revenue increase would be and the numbers were based on the numbers we were seeing from the new meters. Last month was only 4 1/2 percent increase in the total water bill from the same time last year,” Glowinski said. “That billing cycle was during the winter, which is typically the time when the demand is low and it may not be an accurate assessment to what will happen as the summer season comes around and people start watering lawns and using more water. It will take one full cycle before we can fairly compare any numbers.”

Glowinski said water usage slows whenever there is an increase in a person’s bill. He said they monitor their use more closely, but typically fall back to normal use.

“Generally what you will find is you will see a ramp up in revenue, but when people see that their bill went up then they start economizing and change their use patterns,” Glowinski said. “As time goes on people tend to go back to what their normal habits have been and you could see an increase after the initial fear subsides.”

The job to install all of the meters is near complete. Glowinski said there are only a few meters that need to be installed in homes where people have been gone for the winter or homes that have been repossessed by the bank or are in the care of a real estate agent. He said those old meters are being replaced when they can.

Glowinski said United Water already has been able to contact customers when the new system detects abnormalities in usage. He said the company notifies a user when it appears something out of the normal is occurring so they can find leaks or what the cause of the increase usage is.

“These new meters can also help to prevent large water bills from leaks,” Glowinski said. “We can contact the customer and have them look to see if there is a problem right away instead of waiting a quarter of the year and finding out there is a leak. It would cost them much more over that time.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at