Cellular water meters help Santa Fe manage scarce resource

Fri, 2015-04-03 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

It’s been said that water is the new gold. California just imposed its first statewide water restrictions in response to a historic drought. Australia, which for a decade suffered from a severe drought it called the Big Dry, is still struggling to prepare for the next one.

Knowing where the water is is a key part of managing it. Cities like Santa Fe, New Mexico are finding that mostly invisible wireless networks can play a key role in making their scarce water supplies more visible. The city is working with Council Associate Partner Badger Meter to deploy cellular smart meters in one of the biggest such installations anywhere.

Cellular networks overcome challenges
Because of short supplies, cities that decide to start tracking their water more closely are usually in a hurry to do that. Santa Fe found that the cellular water meters provided it with a rapid path to deployment despite its challenges.

The city’s uneven terrain poses a problem for wireless communications networks that rely on line-of-sight transmission. The package from Badger Meter allows the city to leverage its existing cellular networks.

In the past, technology like this worked only for electrical utilities that could easily supply the meters with power. Badger Meter says advances in battery technology now make the meters viable for others. Santa Fe plans to install 35,000 of these meters, using them for both residential and commercial customers.

Information aids conservation
When water supplies are short, cities tell people to conserve. They may try, but without information to guide them, their efforts may miss large, but hidden opportunities and fall short of overall goals. Santa Fe, where water supplies are again below normal levels after a five-year drought, hopes smart meters will help. Real-time usage information should help customers see more easily where they’re wasting water -- a level of clarity that isn’t available on a monthly bill.

It also provides the water utility an opportunity to do better. The Smart Cities Council Readiness Guide, which contains a chapter that guides cities through the development of smart water plans, finds a significant amount of water is wasted before it even reaches customers. Smart metering helps uncover those leaks.

Cities that switch to smart water meters typically discover that they’ve been losing at least 10% of their water due to leaks; some discover they’ve been losing half. Considering that cities have already paid to treat that lost water, the savings delivered is even greater. And those savings not only help cities conserve their precious water resources, they can also be a springboard for other smart investments.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

More resources …
Smart Water Metering Solution Reduces Water Usage by 10% in Australian City
Yorkshire Water: Managing Water Resources in Real Time Improves System Reliability
San Francisco turns to smart water meters during drought