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New Orleans Smart Water Meters Will Raise Accuracy, Bills

New automatic water meters being installed across New Orleans could finally solve one of the city's most frustrating problems: unpredictable and unreliable sewage and water bills.

Water Meter
(TNS) — New automatic water meters being installed across New Orleans could finally solve one of the city's most frustrating problems: unpredictable and unreliable Sewerage & Water Board bills.

But agency officials cautioned this week that the more precise readings will likely mean customers will pay more.

The vast majority of customers should expect to see cost increases of about 10%, while a handful could see their bills go up as much as 25%, S&WB Project Manager Rebecca Johnsey told a City Council committee Monday. That's because the manual readers being replaced don't actually capture the entirety of a customer's water usage.

"Our meters in the ground are mechanical meters, and that means they have pieces on the inside that physically move. So over time, they get gunked up and they slow down, and it actually takes more and more water on the front end to start the movement," Johnsey said.

About 10,000 "smart meters" have already been installed under a $67 million contract with California-based Aqua-Metric signed in December 2022, and the first bills will begin going out next week, S&WB executive director Ghassan Korban said Tuesday.

The initial round of bills will be no more than 120% of a customer's annual average, he said. After that, bills will reflect the precise reading of the smart meters.

About 70,000 smart meters, or half of all meters across the city, are on track to be in place by the end of this year, officials said. The other half should be installed by the end of 2025.

The news that the city's old meters could be saving customers a few bucks will likely come as a surprise to many who have seen inflated bills resulting from estimated reads, human error and other technology problems. The new smart meters are designed to correct those problems by providing real-time water usage to customers through an online portal.

Council members urged water board officials to "overdo" a campaign to inform the public about how the new meters will impact bills. Council member Eugene Green also asked the agency to hold community meetings in every council district.

"On the one hand, we can't have people pay for service they're receiving, but on the other hand there will be sticker shock," said Council member Joe Giarrusso.

Inaccurate bills have stirred public outrage for years, and the problem was recently a primary focus of Gov. Jeff Landry's task force to reform the agency. Two proposals are pending in the legislature to stabilize billing procedures and resolve about 2,400 account disputes while the meter replacement project is underway.

State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty's House Bill 965 would give customers the option of receiving fixed monthly bills until they get a new meter, with the fixed amount based on an average of recent bills.

Hilferty's bill would also install special arbiters in each council district to resolve disputed bills. The arbiter would have final say if finding in favor of the customer; if not, the customer would still be able to go through the existing appeals process.

State Rep. Matthew Willard's House Bill 525 would forbid the use of estimated reads of the old meters, which the S&WB says it must use when meters are obstructed or when there aren't enough staff to conduct in-person reads, which happens often.

Both bills have passed the House and are awaiting Senate action.

© 2024 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.