How the Board of Water Supply Reads Your Water Meter

water meter readerThe Board of Water Supply (BWS) reads its water meters in two ways:

  • By radio signal using a vehicle-mounted radio receiver, or
  • Visually by a BWS meter reader.

For more information about how the BWS collects customer meter readings, check out this video:

How to Read Your Water Meter

water meter sensusWater meters are usually located near the street-side of your property line. To read your water meter, lift up the protective cover and examine the reading dials.

The BWS uses three basic types of residential water meters. Each utilizes an odometer-type register, either a traditional scrolling-number readout or one with a display like an electronic calculator. All meters also have an indicator—such as a little red/black pinwheel—that moves when water is moving through it.

You can detect leaks by closing all water outlets (faucets and taps) and checking the meter. If all the water is shut off, and there are no leaks, then the pinwheels should not move at all. Because the red/black pinwheels will move at very low flows, they can sense and display even a small leak.

Leaks in household and underground water pipes on your property can be expensive. Check for possible leaks in your property at least once a month, or whenever you suspect a leak exists. Be sure to make any necessary repairs as soon as possible.

After you have checked your meter, be sure to replace the cover flush with the box. If your meter box has a reading hole cover, turn the cover to the closed position so that the two holes are not parallel to the sides of the box.

Questions & Answers About Meters

Reading BWS Meters and the Use of Automated Equipment

The BWS has acknowledged in the past that it has experienced problems with its automated meter reading equipment that led to billing concerns. However, it has acted to address these problems. There may be some confusion in understanding the differences between BWS meters and Automated Meter Reading (AMR) equipment.

BWS Meters

BWS meters are used to register water usage at the customer’s property. Even though the AMR components may fail, the meter continues to register water usage, enabling the BWS to still obtain an actual reading.

The BWS tests about 10% of its new meters, when they are received. The meters are then stored until they need to be installed. The BWS repairs and replaces meters on an as-needed basis.

All BWS meter registers tested were within the acceptable test limits specified by the American Water Works Association, the national association of drinking water professionals.

Automated Meter Reading Equipment

The BWS uses Automated Meter Reading equipment to read its meters. There are three components:

  • An ECR (electronic register) that is physically attached to the meter.
  • A Meter Transceiver Unit (MXU) that is connected via wire to the ECR.
  • A Vehicle Transceiver Unit (VXU) in the BWS’s drive-by vehicle.

As the BWS vehicle drives along a meter-reading route, the VXU sends a radio signal to MXUs within range to notify them to transmit, via radio signal, meter reads back to the VXU. The MXU gets the reading from the ECR and sends it back via radio signal, to the VXU. Failure of any one of these components will result in an “AMR no-read” situation. However, the BWS can and makes every effort to go back and obtain a manual reading from the meter, which continues to register water usage. Currently, the overall meter read rate is at 98%.

Much of the AMR equipment was installed in the early 2000s. About 5 years ago, many of the AMR components had performed beyond their projected useful lives and started to fail, resulting in decreasing AMR read rates. At the same time, the BWS moved to monthly billing, and did not have enough meter readers to adequately conduct follow-up reads, which consists of taking the manual read of the meter that continues to register water usage. These conditions resulted in a high percentage of estimated usage at that time.

Since then, the BWS has improved its overall read rate by increasing its meter-reading staff positions up to 19 and actively replacing failing AMR components so that the overall read rate is at 98%, which is the BWS’s target.

Unfortunately, despite these efforts to reduce no-reads, due to various reasons, the BWS is not always able to get an AMR reading. Other reasons include:

  • Environmental factors, such as rainy weather which can flood the meter boxes and interfere with the radio signal used to pick up meter readings;
  • Physical objects blocking the radio signal sent from the meter, such as a car parked over the meter and objects such as construction material, flower pots and even portable toilets;
  • Multiple holidays in a month, which reduces the meter readings picked up.

As the AMR components surpass their useful life expectancies, the BWS is actively working to replace them quickly. According to the City’s FY2018 Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report, the BWS estimated about 1.8% of its bills and had an AMR read rate of 81%. Additionally, the BWS has been working to increase its AMR read rate by replacing MXU units as needed while seeking for a contract to do mass replacements of these failing components. In fact, we have a team of 9 employees that are dedicated to this work. As a result, its current AMR read rate has increased to about 85%.

Meanwhile, due to our efforts to try to secure an actual meter reading whenever possible, the overall unread meter rate is at less than 2%.

Please note, estimated usage is self-correcting. If a meter reading on an account is estimated one month, the total usage will be corrected the following month once the meter is read. So, if the customer has been over (or under) billed the first month, that billing will be corrected the following month.)

Q&A From Carroll Cox

The BWS received these questions from Carroll Cox on April 9, 2019. Our responses, as shown below, were provided to Mr. Cox on April 25, 2019. These questions and our responses were subsequently shared with another media outlet. The questions and our complete responses are provided, here, verbatim, in the interest of transparency and for the information of our customers.

I am writing to ask your help in providing assistance in obtaining answers to questions we have after claims made on my show by former Board of Water Supply (BWS) Meter Reader Nathan Kau.

1. Was Mr. Kau formerly employed by the BWS? if yes What are the dates?

We are able to verify that Mr. Kau worked with BWS, but any other detailed personnel information would require a signed release from the employee.

2. Did the BWS conduct test of new water meters in the Mililani area? If yes, how many meters were involved in the test?

We do not test meters based on area. We test approximately 10% of the number of meters received.

3. Did any of the meters used in the test fail? If yes how many failed?

None. All meters registers were within the tolerance specified by AWWA.

4. What other areas were tests of new meters recently conducted?

Again, we do not test based on areas. When we receive the meters, we do not know what location it be installed.

5. Did any meters fail during the other tests? If yes, what was the percentage of failures for each test area?

Please define “other tests”.

6. What percentage of the total meters being used by the BWS have failed.

What is the definition of “failed”?

7. How is billing of rate payers handled for the meters that do not work?

In general, if a meter is not working, it will register 0 consumption and we will bill at 0 consumption. If we do not get a read, which could be due to a number of causes, the bill will be estimated by the billing system – this estimate is based on an average of the previous 6-month reads. Generally, a homeowner’s water use does not vary greatly month to month; any meter showing abnormally high or low water usage will be flagged for investigation.

8. There have been reports of two cargo containers full of new, unused “ECR” devices that have not been put into service due to staffing shortages and a contract and compatibility dispute with the seller. Because this impacts the rate-payers ability to have workable and properly maintained equipment to insure accurate billing, I respectfully request all contracts related to the ECR’s be identified and an explanation as to why these have not been installed in replacement of existing broken, stuck or other malfunctioning meters.

We have cargo containers of new unused ECRs and MXUs. These materials will be furnished to a contractor to do our mass MXU change out project. This project will be going out to bid and construction is scheduled to begin later this year. We do not have a contract and compatibility dispute with the seller.

Broken and/or malfunctioning meters are replaced when they are identified, and we have a Field Operations team that handles this.

In addition, due to the long lead time in procuring parts for repair, we need to keep stock on hand.

9. I further have been informed that existing “reading equipment” is either consistently broken, not periodically re-calibrated, and/or there are too few on hand. This, in turn, generates “computer estimates” or other forms of force billing on ratepayers for extended periods of time that is not accurate.

Equipment is repaired and replaced as needed. There is sufficient quantity on hand.

10. Please identify any and all applicable rules and policies to the following areas:

  1. Customer notification of stuck or broken equipment as it specifically pertains to their billing;

    Investigators from Customer Care or Field Operations may contact customers in the course of completing field activities or work orders.
  2. Meter reader rules as it pertains to the use of or monitoring of computers and/or hand-held or mobile devices while driving roadways;

    The equipment is set up prior to going on the road. There should be no time the Water Data Collection Clerk is handling equipment while driving. They are trained to pull over and park (safely and legally) if they need to adjust the equipment. BWS Water Data Collection Clerks are required to follow all the rules of safe driving as put forth by the State of Hawaii. We do have driver training. Please refer to the attached procedures for setting up the equipment prior to going out and reading the meters.
  3. Procedures allowed by BWS as it pertains to altering, changing or amending the types of reads (example: from no read to an AMR read) so as to bill a customer in a timely way;

    We would not change the read.

11. Is there a crew that maintains and cleans meter boxes so that a customer can easily monitor his water usage;

No specific field crew only cleans/maintains meter boxes. If work needs to be done in a meter box, the box will be cleaned.

12. A list of all “pilot projects” as it pertains to testing new products and software prior to purchasing said items in bulk;

This request is very broad – pls specify types of pilot projects you are interested in.

13. Any and all documents that insures the public safety from radio waves associated with AMR devices that can” alledgedly” be awakened and read from a central location miles away.

BWS relies on manufacturers to provide equipment that meets all federal regulations (if any) required for them to sell equipment that does not threaten public health and safety. BWS adheres to all manufacturer recommended installation and operation practices. For more information regarding the radio waves emitted from the equipment we use please refer to the following: