In the City of Moncton, a new monitoring system has residents thinking differently about how they use water.
Management consultant Peter Drucker said that if you can’t measure something, you can’t manage it. The City of Moncton could add a footnote to that widely traded aphorism, based on its experience implementing a fixed network AMR system. As they’ve learned, the more accurately you measure something, the easier it is to manage.
But the decision to install a new system of measurement for water usage wasn’t inspired by any management theories. Instead, it was motivated by the imminent failure of the existing system, a telephone-line based set-up that shared infrastructure with the city’s other utility networks. “In the end,” says Mike Richard, the City of Moncton’s utilities supervisor, “we had a quarter of our accounts that weren’t reading.” They thought about patching up the old system, but soon realized that the only satisfactory solution was an entirely new system.
Enter the Hexagram STAR system, a radio-based network that relays information from the household meter transmitter units (MTUs) to a series of 28 Data Collection Units (DCUs) that are mounted on roofs and utility poles throughout the city. Those units can take up to four reads a day, and that information, once collected, is linked into the billing system. Both the City and its customers have benefitted from the enhanced quality of information, which was instrumental in the City completing its first-ever International Water Association water audit in 2008.
The system also allows the City to create usage pattern profiles in order to determine when something unusual is happening. “If the average current is 200 per cent above the previous level, then you’ve either got theft or a leak,” Richard says. “This provides us with a service call, where we can go out and respond at a given time.” Those service calls, Richard suggests, have helped the city curtail the number of leaky toilets, bathroom fixtures and frozen pipes, all of which can lead to substantial volumes of wasted potable water. “It’s become a big leak detector, you might say.” Plugging those leaks is having an impact, too, if the city’s consistent water consumption levels are any indication.
Robert Gillis, an engineer with Atlantic Purification Systems Ltd. and the chair of the Atlantic Canada Water & Wastewater Association, says that Moncton’s monitoring system illustrates the value of good information. “Without accurate knowledge of what’s going on in your water distribution system and the efficient relaying of that information, you can’t provide the level of service necessary to ensure that safe drinking water is provided to your residents.” Perhaps more important is the influence that this kind of accurate knowledge can have on the people who generate it. In Moncton, the fixed network AMR system has stimulated a greater interest water usage patterns and how to improve them. “You can monitor your own usage,” Richard says. “Customers become more educated; they tell two friends or neighbours and the power in numbers just grows exponentially because you’ve educated them and empowered them to do it themselves.” — Max Fawcett