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City of San Diego Unveils New Water Meter Testing System

April 3, 2018

By Ana Gomez Salcido

Representatives of the Public Utilities Department of the City of San Diego unveiled a new tracking system that began operations two weeks ago,which will test residential and commercial water meters.

The new device had a cost of $400,000 and can test water meters in an automated way through the use of a computer, whereas before, the testing was done manually. This testing is done to see if a meter is working correctly and have not previously missed any marks.

Water Systems District Manager Johnny Mitchell said the process for acquiring a new system has been going on since 2014, so it wasn’t a result of the recent controversy that involved the Public Utilities Department of the City of San Diego. The controversy started a few months ago when hundreds of San Diego residents presented complaints of overcharges in their water bills.

During an internal audit of the Public Utilities Department, the City found 343 meters had been misread due to human error. That error caused residents to be overcharged by more than $100,000 in January for water they didn’t use.

The communities affected were in North County including Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, and Rancho Peñasquitos. More than 3,000 meters were reviewed for the internal audit and City officials said the overcharge was an isolated incident.

Other causes of higher water bills were attributed to citywide rate increase of 6.9 percent that the City Council approved in 2015 and took effect August 2017, leaks in homes and irrigation systems, warmer temperatures and dry conditions leading to increased water use, and new landscaping or pool installations.

The deputy director of water construction and maintenance for the Public Utilities Department, Tom Howard said they continue to test meters of customers that have issues with their water bills.

“When a customer establishes a complaint, we go to their home and change their meter for a new one. We also test their previous meter, and if they ask, it can be tested in front of them,” Howard said. “In some cases, we have found there are leaks in their homes and that there are no problems with their meters.”

Howard said he didn’t know how many meters have been previously misread or have been marked as faulty because he hasn’t analyzed the data the department has, but that none of the new smart meters have been tested as faulty.
Currently, there are approximately 90,000 smart meters of the approximately 280,000 meters that are installed in total all over San Diego for the 1.3 million customers in the city.

With the new testing system for water meters, a 5 percent of all the new smart meters are tested before they are installed throughout the city. The installation of smart meters began in 2012, and by 2020, all the meters in San Diego are expected to be smart meters.

In San Diego, there are programs already in place to assist customers like a free residential survey that can be found at www.sandiego.gov that allows Public Utilities staff to help customers monitor their water consumption and check their property for leaks.

The City also has a number of water conservation rebates, including water pressure reduction valves and rain barrels. Customers are encouraged to contact the City with questions or concerns at 619-515-3500 or customercare@sandiego.gov.

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