As the batteries in water meters begin to fail around the city, Edina has begun a $3.6 million project to replace every one of its 14,000 water meters.
The task has already started and is expected to be complete in June. David Goergen, interim assistant public works director, said it's a matter of replacing obsolete technology that soon would clash with federal law with meters that are easier to read and conform to new standards.
The old meters were installed in the mid- to late 1990s and send out radio frequencies to city vehicles that collect data by driving up and down streets. The meter batteries were expected to last about 10 years.
Now, those batteries are failing at a catastrophic rate.
"Sometimes the signal isn't strong enough to get to the road, and we have to use a hand-held device and walk around the house to see if we can read it," Goergen said. If that doesn't work, meter readers need to get into the house to read water use.
While the city could have replaced the batteries in the old meters, Goergen said finding replacement parts has become increasingly difficult. The old meters also have more lead in them than new federal laws will allow. And the company that made the old meter-reading system has gone out of business, so there's no technical support.
"They're at the point where if the reading system fails, they can't do anything about it," Goergen said. "It would be like finding someone to work on a steam locomotive."
In addition, the radio bandwidth used by the meters has been reassigned by the Federal Communications Commission and is reserved for emergency use.
Residents will not see a fee hike linked to the meter replacement because it is being funded from money built up in the city's utilities fund, Goergen said. The new meters are a bit smaller than the old ones but won't look very different. They meet new federal lead standards, and their batteries should last 20 years.
The new meters transmit data using the same radio technology as the old ones, but because they send out a stronger pulse, the city will be able to read one-third of the meters in the city in a day instead of the five days it took under the old system.
"It will increase our efficiency," Goergen said. "Instead of having our meter reader do that for five days, he'll do it for one day and then do other jobs."
While he said that there's no way to prevent technical obsolescence, the new meters and the reading system were made by the same manufacturer and that company has been around for a long time.
Residents and businesses are being notified by letter that they will be contacted by the contractor that has been hired to do the meter replacements. That contractor will then send letters asking to set up an appointment to replace the meter.
So far, 2,000 meters have been replaced. More information is available by going to the city website at www.edinamn.gov/ and typing "water meter" in the search box.
Mary Jane Smetanka 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan