BY LEANN DILBECK –
New Mena Water Utilities Manager Charles Pitman said the Mena Water Commission has awarded bids on a project that has been stalled out since 2011 and said they are all grateful to be moving forward to the installation of new water meters.
Pitman explained that the process was necessary due to higher than acceptable water losses, averaging approximately 22% when it should be between 15 to 20%. Pitman said that most of the meters are old and inefficient with a majority in the system being at least 20 years old unless it is in newer construction.
Pitman said the Utility consolidated debt in May of this year by rolling six separate bond issuances into one and issued another for the total necessary to complete the project totaling $4.5 million. Instead of the Utility managing eight separate payments per month, there would only be two and would save approximately $6,000 per month in payments. All are 20-year terms.
The project was put out to bid and the Commission approved purchasing the Mueller System from Ferguson Water Works. The Mueller System uses the latest technology that, once installed, will allow a fixed base at the main office to read water usage. It will even allow a customer portal where customers may have the option of monitoring water usage.
Pitman explained that the new system will be of great benefit to both the Utility and the customer. “For example, leaks can be identified so much sooner.”
He added that the technology is proven and it hasn’t been until now that the price has become affordable for the local Utility. The technology uses low frequency radio waves to transmit the information and therefore, the Utility is required to make formal application to obtain FCC licensing. “At best, that process can take 90 days and we can’t install one single component of the system until that licensing is secured.”
For efficiency purposes, the Utility put out to bid for professional installation of the system and it was awarded to Vanguard Utility Service at a cost of approximately $165,000. Pitman said the closest bid to theirs was $230,000. “Vanguard has impeccable credentials and are extremely efficient in the installation.”
This new technology usually does indicate an increase in usage, on average a 10% increase, “But the actual cost increase averages $2.50 per customer so people shouldn’t become overly concerned.”
With the current timetable in play with the FCC licensing, Pitman said they anticipate installation to begin in November and Vanguard is contracted to complete the process in 120-days. There are currently 3,700 active meters in the system. “We don’t want a rush job. This gives adequate time and will eliminate errors being made in the process.”
Pitman said notifications will be sent out to all water customers before the installation process begins. “These guys are professionals so you are only looking at a 30-minute to an hour per meter installed.”
Proud to finally see the project moving forward, Pitman said both he and the Commission have no reservations about the installation or the new technology.