The following agenda item is on the docket for tomorrow evening's City Council meeting. It is a bit of a wild one and I owe a big debt of gratitude to the resident that brought the troubling information included below to my attention. You can link to the staff report covering this invasive $75,000 boondoggle by clicking here.
Mod: What follows is the email I received from our reader pointing out some of the potential problems with this so-called "WaterSMART" program.
I think this item is worth reporting. On Tuesday, the council will decide whether or not to participate in a matching funds program to install an AMI water infrastructure system. The city must submit an application for the grant program. If it is accepted, Sierra Madre must pay $75,000 to be matched for the system. According to the staff report, SGVMWD cannot afford it, so the cities must pay themselves.
I read an article about AMI systems. They are invasive of everyone's privacy. Instead of being able to transmit information one way, AMI meters transfer information two ways. I will send you the article. If someone complains that their bill is too high, the city can respond, "Your bill is correct. I see you take your shower at 5 am."
There is no mention of this lack of privacy in the staff report. Why should tax money be used to invade our privacy? Why should the General Fund loan money to the Water Department for this? How much do these people really need to know about how we live our lives? Besides, if the city is in debt, why aren't those debts being paid off first?
I am suspicious of this because it is being brought before the council at the last meeting before Christmas. This is the time of year when residents are too busy with shopping, etc. to pay much attention. The staff report claims that news of this project came at the last minute. I wonder if that is really true. The deadline to participate in the grant is December 13. That means the City Council and the public only have one night to discuss this.
Mod: Below is a portion of the revealing article mentioned in that email. It is pretty much an exercise in bureaucratese, but some troubling information can be found as well. Oddly, none of this information is shared in the staff report. Link here.
INFRASTRUCTURE: DRIVERS AND BENEFITS IN THE WATER INDUSTRY
By Angela Godwin
Chief Editor, Domestic Water Group
Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, has become somewhat of a buzz word in the water industry over the last few years and it’s being adopted more and more by water utilities under pressure to increase efficiency. With recent advancements in AMI technology, it’s not hard to see the attraction.
Before embarking on a discussion of AMI technology, it’s important to understand the difference between AMR and AMI, as the terms are often confused. AMR, or Automatic Meter Reading, is essentially a step up from a human being walking over to a water meter, reading the numbers, and writing them down.
Rather, a device automatically pings the meter to get a current reading, which is used to generate a bill. AMR systems can be walk-by, drive-by, or fixed network, but regardless of how the meter is read, the communication is one-way. The meter talks to the meter-reading device, but the device cannot send a command back to the meter.
Conversely, AMI enables two-way communication over a fixed network between the utility system and the metering endpoints. It’s a much more powerful and robust system that’s proving its value in some challenging environments, from the rural plains to bustling urban centers.
Historically, AMR systems have been about reading meters quickly and accurately. These systems are certainly useful and continue to be deployed today, but many water utilities are finding that they have challenges beyond simply speed-reading a meter. Utilities are struggling with myriad operational issues that in many cases can be solved by AMI.
With an AMI system, the whole distribution network can be continuously monitored by hourly interval reads. Recent advancements in meter data management have transformed the vast spreadsheets and tedious data-mining activities of just a few years ago into push-button reports...
Mod: Here is the really strange part.
For a municipal water system where customers are also constituents, customer service is critical. With the detailed usage data available in an AMI system, customer service representatives have immediate access to consumers’ consumption information. When a customer calls with a high water bill complaint, the CS representative can give him a complete picture of how and when he’s using water.
“I’m telling you, it’s a pretty powerful thing when somebody calls and says there’s no way the meter is right,” said Sweeney, “and I say, ‘You are an early riser. I see you take a shower at 5 AM.’” The ability to communicate this level of information to the customer not only adds validity to the accuracy of the meter, it makes for superior customer relationships when you can quickly resolve their questions.
The customer isn’t the only one feeling satisfied. “As a customer service representative, you’re trying to help someone with a problem,” said Schlenger. “Nine times out of ten, you’re reacting to unpleasantness.” This takes a tremendous toll on customer service reps. But being able to investigate, diagnose and solve a customer’s problem, changes the CS rep’s perspective.
“When you really feel you can help customers and be proactive, then your whole feeling about your job changes,” said Schlenger. “It becomes more enjoyable and you have more time as an organization to start being analytical.”
The thought of some lost soul at City Hall being able to count the times you flushed your toilet last week, and then "proactively" throwing that information back in your face should they feel the need to do so, is kind of discomfiting. Exactly how much does a city's water department need to know about your very personal affairs?
Properly framed, this should make for an interesting conversation tomorrow night.