Rural Water and USDA Rural Development Collaborate to Create A Water Meter Specification That Helps Communities Upgrade Meters And Save Money

ELBOW LAKE, Minn. – With numerous rural communities struggling to make use of water meter upgrades, a Minnesota Rural Water Association expect had written a water meter specification that allows communities to save money and access the latest water meter technology.

“I noticed that cities were getting new meters paid for by Rural Development, but you’d come back a few months later and communities were not getting the most out of their meters,” explained Jeff Dale, a MRWA Circuit Rider. Circuit Riders are roving water utility experts that provide training and technical assistance to water utilities.

When communities were planning water system projects, they were encouraged to replace their older meters with new meters, especially those with Automated Metered Reading capability.

“In essence, a water meter is a cash register for the utility system,” explained Jim Hammer, the Rural Development Engineer for the state of Minnesota. “Helping a city to develop the tools it needs to have financially sustainable utility systems is a priority of RD. The revenue side of the financial equation begins with the ability to accurately and efficiently collect water usage data to generate utility bills for the customers.”

New meters have numerous advantages, often being more accurate and easier to read. Unfortunately, most of these communities don’t have the capability and infrastructure to make use of the new meters.

“An issue Jeff was seeing after a project was completed was that some cities were not utilizing the water meters from which to bill their customers,” Hammer said. “After asking questions, it became obvious that all the tools needed were not included with the water meters. There were shortcomings regarding the portable reading equipment, billing software, computer, printer, and overall training.”

Dale and Hammer began working on a specification that would allow communities to take advantage of the new meters. Their close working relationship and experience was an essential ingredient to creation of the specification.

“Minnesota Rural Water has worked very closely with the Rural Development staff in Minnesota for many years,” Hammer said. “Jeff and I probably talk about one or more projects at least once a week.”
Dale and Hammer consulted on what they could do to address this problem. They decided to draft a water meter specification that would be considered a “turnkey” specification that would include specifying the requirements needed to address the various shortcomings.

“There are a lot of companies that sell AMR, but very few turnkey solutions,” Dale said.

The specification was planned to be modest in scope and simple in design. Dale and Hammer began a months-long process of consulting and revision to draft a specification.

Dale contributed many years of experience in the operation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems. This includes what features should be in the design to help ensure the system is economical to operate and user friendly for the operations specialist, what improvements may be missing, over-sized, or unnecessary, what tools and equipment items are needed to properly operate and maintain a system, and what equipment components should be included in the schedule of short-live assets that need regular replacement.

Hammer brought his extensive background as a Professional Engineer employed at consulting engineering firms. He focused on the requirements that improvements be modest in size, design, and cost, and of having maximum open and free competition in the bidding process.

“The goal of RD funding is to ensure a project results in a Borrower having a project that results in an affordable and sustainable system,” Hammer said.

The result of the collaboration was a specification that was beneficial for both Rural Development and the communities seeking RD funding.

“The specification includes everything they need to generate a bill for their rate structure: computers, printers and training,” Dale said. “It gives the community all the tools to use their meters as they are intended.”

The meter specification has allowed several Minnesota communities to get the benefits of new, AMR meters without having to hire consultants.

“This saves money, but also puts ownership of the project back with the community,” Dale said.

Both Dale and Hammer highlight that the specification is an example of the benefits of a close working relationship with Rural Water and Rural Development.