City considers water meter upgrade

Water Meter
The Rockwell Meter was installed between 1950 and 1970. There are still approximately 1,445 in service in the Jamestown Water Department system. Submit photo

The water meters in Jamestown are in need of an update, according to Joe Rowell, Jamestown water department supervisor.

Rowell estimates that about 66% of the water meters in the system are obsolete and parts are no longer available. The accuracy of the older meters is a concern.

"The accuracy fails as the parts wear out and don't turn as fast," he said. "A lot of these meters are pre-1965."

Records from the Jamestown Water Department show 136 water meters in the city were initially installed more than a century ago.

Rowell said the type of water meters used by Jamestown has a small wheel in the meter that turns as the water flows. As the parts age, the wheel does not turn as freely and the amount of water used by the home or business is underreported.


Travis Dillman, city engineer with Interstate Engineering, said that is just one of the issues caused by the older meters.

"There is always the concern of liability for the meter readers having to go up to the house," he said.

For residential accounts, meter readers have to connect a reading device to a connection on the outside of the house. The reading is then handwritten onto records used for billing. Those readings are then manually entered into the city's billing system.

Rowell said during the summer, the city has three meter readers working between eight and nine days each month taking readings. During the winter, when access is more difficult, a fourth meter reader is added and the project takes between 10 and 11 days. Rowell said he would like to transfer that staff to other duties within the water department.

In the past, meter readers have fallen in snow and icy conditions and become injured, Dillman said.

And Rowell said the meter-reading devices are so obsolete they are not even available on eBay any longer.

The Jamestown Public Works Committee gave approval Thursday, Oct. 22, for city officials to explore possible options for upgrading the system.

"We have to decide what kind of technology we install," Rowell said. "How far do you want to go with the technology."


One option is "radio read" meters, Dillman said. The technology comes in a couple of levels. At the highest level, the meters connect by a radio system to receivers mounted on one or two of the city's water towers. City officials could check water meter readings for a single home or the entire city from the office rather than sending out meter readers.

"The technology opens up a lot of different doors," Rowell said.

Some possible uses could be to monitor for leaks, take partial month readings when people move in or out and even shut off water to the residence on some of the more advanced units.

"The technology has come quite a ways in a short time," Rowell said. "There are a lot of options out there."

The technology does come at a cost. Rowell estimates the cost to replace every water meter in Jamestown, add the receiver system to the water tower or towers and install any software needed to operate the system at about $2.5 million. Crews would have to enter every home and business in Jamestown with water service and replace the meter.

Sarah Hellekson, city administrator, said the city is "severely behind the times" when it comes to water meter technology.

"We are so far behind this becomes a big project," she said.

If the project is approved, it would likely be funded through a low-interest Bank of North Dakota loan, Hellekson said. The time frame for the project is yet to be determined.

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