The City of Spring Hill is diligently working to find solutions to a problem with our water usage readings. About 230 water meters registered unusually high readings during the January and February billing cycle in a situation that has surprised both residents and City staff investigating this unique challenge.
Analyzing a winter of odd readings
Each month, our meter readers spend about two and a half days reviewing City water meters. Our 1,562 meters are read two different ways – some are read using a touch wand, others transmit a radio reading to a handheld receiver in a vehicle as it drives by the meter. The read data is then transferred to a program in the utility billing office and used to calculate your monthly bill.
Our utility billing software issues an alert when a read shows usage 75 percent more than the previous month. Under normal circumstances, this alert helps staff identify a small number homes that may have a water leak. In January, our system identified about 90 meters that showed usage at least 75 percent more than December’s usage.
Upon reviewing this abnormally high number of high-usage accounts, staff identified a handful of water leaks. However, most of the meters in question showed a very low reading for two months and then issued a very high reading. Staff found that the low readings and high readings average out to an amount very close to that meter’s typical winter usage amount.
The system, they determined, seems to be receiving abnormally low readings for a month or two, then receives a “catch-up” reading that makes the two or three months average out to a normal usage amount. For example, if your normal consumption is about 4,000 gallons, but your bill shows consumption of 1,000 gallons in January and 7,000 gallons in February, that would average out to 4,000 gallons
When information was received to calculate February’s bills, about 130 meters triggered an alert in our billing software. These meters were different meters than the ones that showed unusual readings in January.
In both months, the strange reads were received from touch wands. When staff later manually read each meter, the meter showed a reading nearly identical to the one received through the touch wand. Staff has asserted that this is an incredibly unusual problem that has also surprised our utility software and equipment vendors.
Working toward a solution
Our utilities office has determined that the problems seem to be confined to one meter reading route, one touch wand, and one handheld device. The meters producing odd reads are largely located south of South Street with a few others in Old Town. Efforts to narrow down the problems to specific areas and equipment are bringing our staff closer to finding the source of the issue, and we are still diligently working to discover the root cause of the skewed readings.
Staff has stayed in continuous contact with our software and meter vendors, who are helping us to evaluate the issue. We have ordered new wands and have sent a handheld in to be serviced. We also sent several meters in for testing.
Our utility billing department has identified eleven abnormally low meter reads from last month to serve as a test sample. Staff anticipates that these meters readings will spike in the next month or two and will be regularly tracking these meters’ activity.
A technician from the Kansas Rural Water Association is scheduled to arrive in Spring Hill soon to assist the City with meter flow tests. Randomly selected meters will be compared to readings from a test meter, which should help staff determine whether or not the meters themselves are malfunctioning.
Staff is working daily to prevent these strange readings from occurring again, and our residents will be notified as soon as we have discovered the root of the problem and identified a long-term solution.
While in the end most customers are paying about the same total charge as they usually would on their collective winter utility bills, we understand that paying such a high amount on one bill can be difficult for many households. City staff is ready and willing to work with our residents to explore your account history and payment options.
If you are affected by this issue and would like to meet with a utility billing representative, please call (913) 592-3664 to schedule an appointment with City staff, who are prepared to discuss your utility account over the phone or in person. Scheduling an appointment gives staff time to look at your account in detail before reviewing your situation with you.
In some cases, our meter crew found leaks when rereading meters. Those customers were promptly notified of the problem.
When a leak was present, the low usage amounts and high usage did not average out to the meter’s typical monthly usage. Instead, a much higher average was calculated. In a handful of cases, our staff found that there was both a leak and the unusual high-low usage problem.
If you think you may have a leak, please call our Utility Billing office to schedule a meter evaluation. Those who have a leak or water pipe break are encouraged to complete a water leak appeal form and submit it to City Hall. The water leak appeal program offers 50 percent relief for excess water used due to the leak or broken pipe.
Payment arrangements may be available for those who are not capable of paying an unusually high bill, pending account review by City staff. Please speak with our Utility Billing office to learn about possible payment options.