St. Lucie West switches to ultrasonic meters

Excerpt from Water & Wastes Digest Feb 17 issue

A Tale of Two Technologies

A water system’s experience with two static measuring principles

St. Lucie West Services District (SLWSD) was initially on a direct read system using mechanical meters; they have 6,701 metering points in their district. To conform to the impending Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act passed in 2011 and taking effect in 2014, the decision was made change their meters to a no-lead option,
and they selected electromagnetic static meter technology. From 2012 until 2014, the decision was right on the mark and installations were moving along smoothly. “In 2014, we started experiencing astronomical failure rates with our new meters,” comments Josh Miller, Assistant Utilities Director for SLWSD. Approximately two
out of every 37 electromagnetic meter installed were failing. “Some would fail in two weeks after install, some two months and some two years,” Miller explains. “We were experiencing meters that would read 30,000 gallons high on one day and a week later read 1,000 gallons less, and some that just stopped reading all together.”
What about warranties?
All meter manufacturers warranty their meters, the industry standard is 10 years plus 10 years prorated. This is to protect water systems from manufacturing flaws and failing meters. However, as Miller puts it, the warranty only helps so much. “What’s the point of a 10 year warranty if I have to revisit my meters before that? I have better things to do than constantly reinstall meters.” During this period, when meters were failing, the manufacturer replaced the electromagnetic meters with positive displacement meters, because of a six-month delay in warrantied meters arriving to the utility.

After a few more months of dealing with failing meters, Miller decided to research other static meter options. His research led him to an ultrasonic smart meter—one that tended to the water system’s sore spot of failing meters. “It sounded too good to be true,” says Miller about the well-documented low failure rate of less than 0.5% with the Kamstrup ultrasonic water meter. “What sold me on this meter is that it’s made by robots, which is a big plus. If the meter is that good,” continues Miller, “then let’s do a pilot.” In March 2016, SLWSD began their pilot with 27 ultrasonic meters.

“The technology we use to calibrate meters is ultrasonic, so why not install ultrasonic meters throughout our system?” comments Miller. With that reasoning, and the positive results of the pilot project, SLWSD released an RFP with specifications for ultrasonic technology.

When the proposals came in, Assistant Utilities Director Miller made sure to call every reference provided by manufacturers. The references he called confirmed his own experiences; other water systems were struggling with failing meters too. One water system in Michigan had similar issues with failing electromagnetic meters—reporting a failure rate of 18.9%. This utility has since made the switch to ultrasonic water meters. For SLWSD, the feedback from references using the same ultrasonic meter installed for their pilot program—the meters made by robots
—received positive reviews in both meter performance and meter reading technology. “One reference I called was an ex-meter rep and is now a public works director, and he commented that he was ‘ecstatic’ about his ultrasonic meters.” 
In July of 2016, SLWSD selected the Kamstrup ultrasonic water meter that best fit their water system’s requirements. The six-year meter change out program has begun and by December 2016, approximately 600 ultrasonic water meters will be installed in their pit installations. SLWSD is already experiencing the benefits of the
ultrasonic measuring principle well beyond the meters functioning properly. Industry standards for all water meters stipulates measuring a minimum of .25 gallons per minute (GPM). With the ultrasonic meter, they are measuring minimum flows at .1 GPM. “Once all of our meters are changed, our revenue increase may reach $500,000 per year with the low flows we get from this meter,” says Miller. “And our guys love installing them. They are lightweight and the threads bite better than other meters we’ve installed. You really can’t mess up the installation of this meter.”