Water Meter FAQ

Water Meter FAQ
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)

Getting Smarter and Working Together

AMI smart water meters help to conserve and ensure a better water future. Working with our customers is the best way to reduce water use, improve the reliability and sustainability of our water system and minimize cost. Smart meters provide an outstanding foundation for strong collaboration with our customers. Smart meter customers now have the tools and information to help save water and save money.

What Is AMI?

AMI stands for Advanced Metering Infrastructure. It is a method of using communication technology to read meters remotely without having to access the meter located in meter boxes in the ground.

How Does It Work?

The City of Lowell has chosen a fixed based network that provides two-way communication from the meter box to strategically located Base Stations. The City is replacing water meters throughout Lowell with new meters equipped with a meter transceiver. The meter transceiver is used to collect and transmit meter reading data, unique identification numbers, operating status, and various alarms at regular intervals to the Base Stations.

Why Is the City Undertaking This Effort?

Advanced meter systems are quickly becoming the standard for utilities around the country. These new devices allow for more accurate and faster collection of water usage readings than the current manual method and improve safety conditions for City staff. Currently, the meter readers must open every meter box to obtain a reading from the meter. Introducing automatic meter reading as the standard for Lowell is one of the ways we can better serve our customers and improve the overall efficiency of the utility department.

The new meters will provide hourly readings during each billing cycle rather than 1 read every 30 days with the existing system. This detailed usage will enable the City to automate its meter reading process, provide improved customer service through data access, reduce leaks to promote resource conservation, and improve Utility operational efficiencies by capturing real-time meter reading data.

How Does AMI Benefit Customers?

• Improved customer service by increasing accuracy and frequency of meter readings.

• Minimized need to access meters at the property.

• Allows us to detect possible leaks daily and alert the customer immediately which can potentially save the customer from a high bill by having a leak go undetected for a month like the current system.

How Many Meters Will Be Changed?

All of the City’s meters will be replaced with new smart meters over a six to nine-week period.

Why Is the Water Meter Being Replaced?

To upgrade the meter to one capable of communicating with the AMI equipment, and as an extension of an existing program to replace aging meters after they have reached the end of their life cycle. With the introduction of newer technology, the existing meters are not able to communicate using the AMI technology. The newer meters will save labor time, prevent recording errors, minimize wear and tear on vehicles, and minimize the need for City employees to access the meter pit.

Will the City be raising water rates to pay for this new AMI system?

No. The AMI system is a budget neutral project and included in the current utility rates.

Do I have to pay for my new meter?

No, the City pays for the costs of the meters and their installation through existing utility fees. The City has prepared for the cost of this project as part of its annual capital improvement planning process. This project does not have any impacts to the existing water and sewer rates for the City.

Can I Access Daily Readings Online?

The City plans to develop and application for your smartphone or computer that will provide real-time data to the customer about their water usage. When this is developed, water customers will have the ability to access their daily water consumption online in one-hour increments. The City intends to do a public awareness notice and publish instructions for online account maintenance when complete.

Do I Have to Be Home for The Meter Replacement Work?

No. Since the water meters are located outside of the home in the City right-of-way, you will not need to be home for the replacement work; however, if your water meter happens to be accessed from your back yard, we can make arrangements to schedule this work if needed. A door hanger will be placed on your front door to let you know when your meter has been replaced.

What Happens If I Have A Problem After the Installation?

If you have a leak, low pressure, or some other problem after the installation, or at any other time, you will be provided contact numbers that you can call to report your concern. Because your water will be turned off temporarily during the meter change process, you may experience a brief period of air or discolored water. In most cases briefly running your cold water will clear up this situation.

Has This New AMI Equipment Been Tested for Accuracy and Reliability?

Yes. All upgraded meters have been tested and guaranteed accurate by the manufacturer, Mueller Systems, in compliance with American Water Works Association (AWWA) accuracy standards. Additionally, the design of the installation process includes a testing phase, which allows a subset of the meters to be installed and the billing software to be integrated, so the entire process, from the meter to the bill, will be tested and verified for accuracy prior to system-wide installation.

Will My Water Bill Go Up?

Possibly but in most cases No. Older mechanical meters tend to lose accuracy as they age and, therefore, may not accurately measure all the water being used. The new water meter will accurately measure the water that you use. All new meters are tested prior to delivery by the manufacturer to ensure that they register properly. If you see a higher bill immediately upon the new meter installation and you have not changed your water use pattern, it is likely the old meter was running slow, or you have a minor leak in the system that wasn’t registering correctly through the old meter. The benefits of improved and more accurate usage information to the Utility and customers will reduce wasted water through the enhanced system capability to send alerts and notifications such as stopped meter, customer leak detection, and utility distribution system leak detection.

Can I Cover Up the Meter After the Installation?

No. Access needs to be available at all times. There will still be instances when meter technicians will visit the meter on site to perform routine maintenance or verify high readings. Obstructions to the meter box are subject to removal by City personnel.

What If There Is Something Blocking or In Front of The Meter?

Please, keep access to the water meter available at all times to ensure it is accessible for any potential emergency that would require the meter to be turned off. Be careful during the fall foliage season not to cover your water meter with piles of leaves.

How Will I Know That You Have My Reading & Not Someone Else’s?

Each radio frequency device has a unique identification number, which is transmitted along with the meter reading. The unique number is compared to your account record electronically to ensure a match.

Will the Electronic Device on The Meter Interfere with Other Electronic Equipment?

No. The radio transmission operates in compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations to avoid interference with other electronic devices.

Is the Electronic Device and Data Encrypted?

Yes. Data transmitted from the meter through the system is encrypted through the entire process.

About the Installation Project

Who is doing the work for the project?

The project is being managed by City staff. The City has hired a contractor (Keystone Utility) to assist in the installation of the meters for efficiency.

How long will I be without water during installation?

While replacement times will vary, replacing a meter should take no longer than 10 minutes for residential meters, during which the water will be shut-off for a portion of that time. The installation crews will make every effort to keep the interruption to your service to a minimum. Commercial and industrial customers will be contacted in advance to schedule installation to minimize the disruption to their business. After the new meter has been installed, a door tag will be placed on the front door notifying customers the work has been completed.

Who do I contact with questions about the field work to my meter?

The City has arranged for a 24/7 hotline through a contract with the installer to answer questions or concerns regarding your meter replacement if you should experience any service issues. The toll-free number is 877-587-2279. You may still call City Hall with any other questions concerning your service

Tampering with Meters

Per North Carolina General Statute 14-151.1, it shall be unlawful for any unauthorized person to alter, tamper with, or bypass a meter which has been installed for the purpose of measuring the use of water or knowingly to use water passing through any such tampered meter or water bypassing a meter provided by the town for the purpose of measuring and registering the quantity of water consumed. Any meter or service entrance facility found to have been altered, tampered with, or bypassed in a manner that would cause such meter to inaccurately measure and register the water consumed, or which would cause the water to be diverted from the recording apparatus of the meter, shall be prima facie evidence of intent to violate and of the violation of this section by the person in whose name such meter is installed, or the person or persons so using or receiving the benefits of such unmetered, unregistered, or diverted water. Any person(s) not authorized by the town operating any valves on the distribution system, which included the cut off valve at the meter, hydrants, etc. shall be charged with tampering.

Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Whoever is found in a civil and/or criminal action to have violated any provisions of this section shall be liable to the city; losses shall be fined and shall also be charged for the cost to repair and or replace any damages sustained.

Fines as listed on the City of Lowell Fee Schedule will be charged to customers who illegally cut on their own water. Civil and criminal penalties also apply.

If water is cut on illegally after disconnection due to nonpayment of a utility bill, the meter is to be locked, and charges of $250 for tampering with a meter will be applied to the account. If the meter is tampered with after being locked the meter will be removed and there will be an additional tampering fee applied to the account. The meter will only be replaced after all fees and balances are paid.
If you need to have repairs done at your property, please contact the Utility Customer Service Department at 704-824-3518 option #1 to have a City employee turn the water off at the meter. Once repairs are completed, contact the Utility Customer Service Department and we will turn the water back on.

Any damaged to a meter incurred by an individual turning their own meter on and off for repairs will be charged to the service address owner. The cost of a replacement meter ($40.00) and possible employee and/or equipment hours will be charged in addition.

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