Minnesota City Plans a Gradual Transition to Smart Meters

North Mankota’s move away from aging water meter infrastructure will happen over time, as the devices wear out. They will then be replaced with automated, city-owned units.

by Trey Mewes, The Free Press / January 8, 2018
Shutterstock/igorwheeler

(TNS) — The city of North Mankato, Minn., is planning to phase in automated water meters slowly as current meters wear out.

City staff proposed the gradual switch to automated readers during the North Mankato City Council's public meeting Monday night.

Residents won't immediately be required to switch, but will have to buy an automated reader once theirs breaks.

"We have listened to residents and are not going to mandate this service," City Administrator John Harrenstein said. "But we also are listening to those who said they wanted this service and we are providing that to them as an option if they want to pay for the replacement meter."

The proposal would also include automated reader installations for new housing developments and street reconstructions. City workers installed readers as part of the recent Jefferson Avenue street reconstruction project; residents weren't required to switch and the cost was absorbed as part of the project's assessments.

North Mankato's proposal comes about six months after a citywide survey found a majority of residents didn't want to switch from self-reporting their water usage.

Out of 1,388 total respondents — about 10 percent of the city's population — 61 percent said they weren't willing to pay to replace their water meters with city-owned, automated ones.

At the time, the city had looked at an estimated $3.2 million project to switch the meters out at that time, which could have included signal towers to use Wi-Fi and radar technology to collect water usage throughout the city.

Public Works Director Nate Hood said the city met with five other companies since the survey and found they could save money by simply requiring water utility employees to read meters at the beginning of each month, which he estimated would only take about four to five hours of staff time.

City officials have pointed out the meters would reduce late fees for residents, which affects about 20 to 25 percent of the 5,300 or so North Mankato households. They also say the new meters would more accurately gauge how much water residents use.

"It gives us the ability to have real-time confirmation that their reader is up and working," Hood said.

Hood also pointed out it's getting harder to find and buy non-automated meters since so many communities have already switched over. Less than 10 percent of Minnesota towns and cities require residents to report their own water usage. North Mankato is the last city of its size in the region to do so.

Council members have differing views on the switch. New Council member Sandra Oachs was against switching over when the city conducted its survey in 2018, while Council member Jim Whitlock adamantly supported automated water meters.

North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen said despite the survey results, he still heard from plenty of residents during last year's election season who wanted automatic readers.

"With the volunteer implementation and then doing it piecemeal as is it comes up with reconstructions, I think that just makes sense," he said.

City staff will present a formal policy to the council at a later date.

©2019 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.