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PSC gives approval of $103,000 water meter replacement in Colfax

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has issued a final decision granting approval for the Village of Colfax to replace water meters at an estimated cost of $103,000.

The PSC’s final decision is dated August 30, 2017.

Based on a recommendation from the public works committee, the Colfax Village Board approved buying new residential water meters earlier this year at the January 9 meeting.

The new water meters will be read with computer software and a tablet computer that will allow public works employees to drive up and down the streets to read the meters rather than having to enter each house to read the meter and record the numbers.

At the January village board meeting, the new Kamstrup meters were expected to be purchased from the Dakota Supply Group out of Burnsville, Minnesota, on a seven year financing plan at 3.263 percent interest with an annual payment of $13,530.

According to the decision from the PSC, the Commission received an application from the Village of Colfax water utility for non-routine meter replacement on February 10 of this year.

Colfax provides water service to 470 metered customers, and the water utility reported operating revenue of $261,274 in 2016.

Water lost

Based on annual report data from 2012 to 2016, the Colfax water utility has had losses of 28,000 gallons to 32,000 gallons of water per customer each year (non-revenue water). 

The value of the water lost is estimated at between $36,000 and $92,000 each year, according to the PSC’s decision.

The Colfax water utility has three wells, one water tower, and 10 miles of water main.

The existing water meters have reached, or are close to, the end of their service life and are read manually, which is time-consuming and prone to errors when writing down numbers from the meters, according to the decision.

“Furthermore, based on annual report data, the Utility has been grappling with high non-revenue water for at least the past five years,” the decision states.

The new “smart” water meters will “allow the Utility to gather water use data on a more frequent basis, which will help identify leaks, excessive use patterns, and potential billing anomalies,” the PSC decision states.

The PSC decision goes on to say, “it is estimated that the Utility’s high non-revenue water has had the effect of reducing income from water sales by more than 30 percent for each of the last five years.”

Based on revenue in 2016 of $261,274, if one-third of the revenue was lost, that amounts to a $78,000 loss in revenue for one year. 

If the utility lost the same amount of revenue in all five years, that would amount to a loss of nearly $392,000 — or a loss of $289,000 more than it would cost to replace the existing water meters with new smart meters. 

To put the cost of the water loss into perspective, the Third Avenue street project and the Fourth Avenue street project amounted to over $300,000 each.

Part of the cost of street projects includes replacing water mains. 

Schedule 

Although Rand Bates, director of public works in Colfax, had hoped at the January meeting of the Colfax Village Board to be able to replace the water meters this year, according to the PSC’s final decision, replacement of the meters is scheduled to occur in the spring of 2018. 

The PSC’s final decision also stipulates if the installation of the new water meters has not started within two years, the Colfax water utility must ask for an extension of time from the PSC.

In addition, the PSC is requiring the Colfax water utility to report biannually on the progress toward the proposed customer service benefits included in the application.

The first report must be submitted to the PSC no later than six months after completing the installation of the new water meters and must continue until the proposed benefits have been implemented.

The customer service benefits include reducing the labor needed to read the meters and collect data, eliminating the need to access the meters directly and ensuring more accuracy in the meter readings. The replacement of the meters also will allow the utility to improve customer service and promote customer service through better notification of possible leaks, temperature alarms and detailed information about water use.

The software registers the temperature of the water, so public works employees will be able to tell where the water is colder in the winter, and if the temperature drops below a certain point, residents in that section of town can be asked to let the water trickle to prevent water mains from freezing.

Several years ago, during the winter of 2013-2014, when Colfax had more than 40 nights of zero or below zero weather, dozens of water main freeze-ups occurred all over the village. 

Village residents were instructed to turn their water on at a trickle and leave it running to help keep the mains from freezing.

A temperature alarm on the water meters would have been helpful in identifying those areas where the water mains were most likely to start freezing.