What did she win? …. A BRAND NEW water meter!

When Susie Seidelman, The Johnson Foundation’s Environment Program Associate, needed to be at home to meet the meter replacement technician, I asked her to turn it into a learning adventure for us all. I think this post provides an interesting perspective as to how cities are approaching their water infrastructure.~ Lynn Broaddus

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from Milwaukee Water Works letting me know all the water meters in my neighborhood would be replaced. I needed to set up an appointment for the installation, which I did with an embarrassing amount of glee. New meters across the neighborhood! Visions of improved water infrastructure danced in my head, and I think the phone operator on the other end was a little taken aback by my enthusiasm.

Quite frankly, so was the plumber. For starters, I asked him if he wanted coffee, which apparently no one has done in his 10 years with the city (Milwaukee Water Works customers, how about upping the hospitality ante next time). When we got in the basement, I showed him the meter, and he got to work. To my surprise, the new meter looked just like the old one. Same size. Same features. Same colors, even. I asked him how much more accurate these meters would be. I mean, I figured that had to be at least part of the reason the city was paying to send an army of plumbers into the homes in my neighborhood – to tackle the problem of our city’s 100-year-old, often crumbling water infrastructure head on. Better data means better pinpointing of problems, right?

Alas, no. His answer: not at all. I think he could tell I was crestfallen, because then he said, “Well, they might be a little more accurate because they’re new. But probably not.” So I asked him why the city was bothering to replace them. He said the current meter had an expected lifespan of 15-20 years and was installed in 1997, so it was time to go. It was with clarity, then, that I knew the theme song of my day:

http://cdn.hark.com/swfs/player_fb.swf?pid=vcfhzqhncj

Price is Right Loser Horn.MP3
Maybe this was naïve, but I really thought the City of Milwaukee was taking this opportunity to upgrade to a system like this one in Washington, D.C., an automated system providing several benefits: more accurate data, which helps determine where leaks and other infrastructure problems occur; reduced fuel consumption and vehicle maintenance costs because data is automatically transmitted to the utility, eliminating the need for meter readers; and allowing customers access to their data, going so far as to text or e-mail them when their water use spikes. This feature alone could completely reshape the way we interact with our water – being able to see how much we’re using, in real time, could help customers make better use choices or determine when there’s a leak.

Determined to find a silver lining, I inquired into the manufacturer of my new water meter. As it turns out, the new meters are made by Milwaukee-based Badger Meter, which employs hundreds of our fellow residents. So there’s that. Cue new theme song:

http://cdn.hark.com/swfs/player_fb.swf?pid=yxzbbwfjfd

The Price is Right Theme, Short

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