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Door-to-door water meter readers to end visits, estimates

| Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 11:45 p.m.

Door-to-door water meter readers could soon go the way of milkmen and encyclopedia salesmen.

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is installing radio-enabled gauges that will allow meter readings without even entering customers' homes.

The utility, which sells water to more than 125,000 customers in five counties, will replace about a third of the system's meters.

Authority board members have approved a $3 million project to install 15,000 of the new meters over the next five years. That's in addition to 15,000 meters that already were targeted for the upgrade.

The electronic devices will include a radio transmitter that will allow an authority reader to record usage data from the street.

“These are more accurate readings. There eventually will be no more estimates,” said authority manager Chris Kerr.

Readers won't have to leave their cars, Kerr said. The data can be accessed from a meter inside a residence by an authority employee working nearby with a computer.

For customers, the meters could offer other advantages. The authority will be able to download more extensive data from the meters, although that will require going into homes to access the device.

That data will include 96 days of water usage, recorded at 15-minute intervals.

“We'll be able to get a lot of information such as when leaks exist in a customer's house,” said Paul Balest, the authority's meter reader supervisor.

Balest, who oversees a team of 14 meter readers, said his staff visits every commercial customer each month. Because of the authority's spread-out customer base, usage estimates will still have to occur for residential customers until new radio meters have been installed at every home.

The authority started installing the meters last year. Kerr said the oldest meters were the first to be designated for replacements.

Meter replacements in McKeesport will be a priority, because those are read every six months, compared to quarterly readings for the rest of the water system.

Kerr said the authority in the future plans to install a web of receivers to allow meters to electronically transfer data directly to the water authority, eliminating the need to have readers on the road.

“Over time we will migrate to it. But we are so spread out, it's not cost-effective right now,” Kerr said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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