New water meters set to flow this week

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New online water meters are coming to your neighbourhood, St. Albert, and they could help you save water using the Internet.

St. Albert will turn the taps on a $6.4 million water meter replacement program this week. Residents will soon have contractors knocking on their door to replace their analog water meters with digital ones for free, which will let them track their water use online as it happens. The new meters are linked to the city’s ongoing efforts to reduce water use.

City staffers held two open houses this week to introduce the meters to people.

St. Albert currently has 21,292 water meters, said city utilities director Kevin Cole, and the technology behind them hasn’t changed in over 30 years. The city decided last year to upgrade them all at once to digital, a technology already used throughout Alberta.

The new meters will make it easier for meter readers to record water use, Cole said. Instead of having to walk onto your property to check the meter, they’ll do so remotely, just as they already do with your gas and electricity meters. The meters also have a larger, digital display if you want to check them yourself.

The new meters will transmit readings to the Internet every 15 minutes, and you can track those results on a secure website, Cole said.

“If they want to see how much water they’re actually putting on their lawns, they’ll be able to look online.”

This means you’ll be able to spot spikes in water use (say, from a leaky toilet) much sooner than you can using the current meters, which meter readers typically check every two months, Cole said.

These new meters should encourage water conservation, said city environment manager Christian Benson.

“The old adage is what you can’t measure you can’t change,” he said, and these meters give residents a powerful tool with which to measure water use.

Research suggests that “smart” water meters like the ones St. Albert is getting can cause small changes in water consumption. A five-year study of 630 homes in Sydney, Australia, by Macquaire University’s Kirsten Davies found that homes with smart water meters consumed 6.4 per cent less water per month than they did before the study started, whereas homes without those meters consumed 1.3 per cent more.

St. Albert uses about 247L of water per person a day, says the 2016 city Report on the Environment. The city aims to get to 200 L a day per person by 2020 under its Environmental Master Plan.

Coming to your neighbourhood

Pineview and some Kingswood residents will get letters in the mail this week asking them to schedule an appointment with the meter installer, said Dave Oner of Neptune Technology Group (which is handling the meter replacement program). Other neighbourhoods will get their letters later. As the appointments roll in, technicians wearing photo ID and blue uniforms emblazoned with the Nebula name will roll out and start installing, with an aim to have all the city’s meters replaced by March 2019.

Oner asked residents to try to find their water shut-off valve before technicians arrive (check in disused cupboards, under the stairs, and behind mysterious cut-outs in walls, he suggested) and to clear at least a football’s worth of space around their water meter. Installation should take about an hour, and may involve shutting off your water. (Some meters will just need a new transmitter and display.)

Visit stalbert.ca/home/utilities/water/water-meter-replacement-program for details.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.