Published Saturday, March 02, 2013

Environmental groups push for water meter funding

By WALTER C. JONES

Morris News Service

ATLANTA – Something as uninteresting as a water meter could be the secret to safeguarding water supplies in Athens, Augusta, Savannah and other communities downstream from thirsty, growing Atlanta, environmental groups say.

Thursday members of the Georgia Water Coalition buttonholed legislators to talk about supporting House Bill 199 which would open the door to funding for newfangled meters. The electronic meters will detect leaks in houses, businesses or the miles of pipes connecting them to a municipal water plant.

In addition to saving the water that’s wasted in leaks, the meters can also encourage customers to cut back on their usage because they allow instant pricing and discounts during low-demand periods.

Billy Hall, an engineer with the Atlanta consulting firm NewFields, said conventional water bills may group customers in tiers where rates increase for higher usage, but they come so infrequently that consumers don’t react. It would be like buying groceries and not getting the cash-register printout until two months later, offering no information on where to economize while doing the actual shopping.

The digital meters, though, can give instant information with a click on a website.

“They could see that that shower I just took cost me $3.45,” he said. “It allows everyone in the whole water-distribution system to make better decisions.”

The impact could be significant if the General Assembly passes the bill and local governments can get state grants to test the meters, according to April Ingle, a lobbyist with the Georgia River Network.

As a side benefit, it could trigger a number of good-paying jobs installing them and analyzing the data, she said.

“In a place like Athens, these jobs could be a way to keep people in town,” she said.

More importantly, the water saved could meet the demands of Atlanta’s population growth for years without having to take from rivers South Georgia cities depend on.

“Water conservation is one of the least expensive ways to get supply, so it should be eligible for funding,” Ingle said.

Current law only allows funding for construction of purification plants, laying pipes and digging reservoirs. HB 199 would expand that to include meters as the first conservation effort qualified for state water-supply grants.

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