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High-tech water meters touted for Pittsburgh customers

Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority customers will be able to track their daily water usage in real time sometime next year, an official said.

The authority will spend about $9.4 million over 15 years for technology that will send multiple wireless meter readings a day from the meters of about 82,000 customers directly to PWSA.

Customers will be able to log onto a website to see those readings, or have PWSA send them the numbers by email or text message. PWSA spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said customers will be able to use the information to reduce their water consumption. It could warn them of a potential water leak. Rubin said the system also should improve billing accuracy.

“If you were able to go online all the time and check it, that's a pretty good gift for people like us to save money,” said Miles Byrne, development director for Boston-based Beacon Corcoran Jennison, which manages the 718-unit Oak Hill development in the Hill District.

“Some of the pipes under Oak Hill were put in 60, 70 years ago. In the past, we've gone two or three months to find that we've got a leak. Meanwhile, it's a huge amount of water, and it costs a fortune.”

Edward F. Dudek, UPMC's assistant vice president of facilities, engineering and maintenance, said the real-time information will be particularly useful for hospitals and larger buildings with extensive boiler and chiller systems for heating and air conditioning. The systems, particularly in older buildings, can spring leaks that go undetected for long periods, he said.

“Having the ability to monitor water usage quickly ... would absolutely be a benefit to us, especially in our larger facilities,” Dudek said in an email.

Rubin said the authority is replacing existing electronic readers with more advanced models to accommodate the technology from Raleigh-based Sensus. Employees have not gone door to door to read water meters since the electronic readers were installed about 15 years ago.

PWSA will pay Sensus $52,000 a month from its operating budget for the next 15 years, Rubin said. Landis+Gyr of Alpharetta, Ga., charged $62,000 a month for the old readers, she said.

“We're saving $10,000 a month, or $120,000 a year, and providing customers a better service,” Rubin said.

The readers, small boxes known as meter interface units, are being attached on homes and businesses citywide. Rubin said workers don't need to enter a building to attach the readers and should be finished by the end of the summer.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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