Naperville switching to automated water meter system

 
 
Updated 9/8/2020 5:57 PM

Naperville is moving away from manual water meter readings with the approval of a new automated system that officials say will improve service, sustainability and data collection.

The city council last week awarded a $7.2 million contract to Core & Main for the implementation of advanced metering infrastructure, which is expected to more efficiently generate monthly readings for the city's 43,500 water utility customers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The St. Louis-based company was one of five vendors to respond to a request for proposals issued last year after a consultant's analysis determined the new automated technologies would improve customer experiences and lower the city's overall expenses over a 20-year period, Water Utilities Director Darrell Blenniss said.

High employee turnover rates, poor weather, locked fences and other conditions can affect the reliability and cost of the in-person method, which is outdated and generates estimated reads about 25% of the time, he said.

The automated infrastructure will be able to provide real-time use data for customers, reduce the number of estimated reads, proactively identify leaks, increase opportunities for water conservation, lower the risks employees encounter in the field, and streamline the process for final reads, Blenniss said. Switching each meter to the automated system is expected to be completed by November 2021.

The $7.2 million price tag secured through Core & Main is "substantially below" the city's initial estimate of $7.8 million to $9.8 million for upfront costs, Blenniss said. Per a recommendation from the financial advisory board, the project will be funded through a 20-year general obligation bond, resulting in a roughly $442,000 debt service payment.

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Residents are expected to see an annual increase of $9 to $11 -- or $0.75 to $0.90 monthly -- on their water utility bills during the loan payback period, documents show.

City officials had also considered using cash reserves or taking a hybrid approach of borrowing and using existing funds to pay for the new infrastructure. But after the COVID-19 crisis hit, the financial advisory board determined issuing debt would be the best method to help "maintain the city's cash position, take advantage of low interest rates and enhance financial flexibility" amid the pandemic, according to a memo from Blenniss.

Naperville has amended its municipal code to provide water utility customers with the same privacy and security protections that exist for those who use the city's electric utilities, Blenniss said. Residents also will be able to opt out of the automated meter system.

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