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Meters a smart investment

The upgraded technology can detect water leaks before a property owner even notices them, officials say.

February 16, 2011|By Bill Kisliuk, bill.kisliuk@latimes.com

Glendale has only installed about one third of its new smart meters, but already they have uncovered significant leaks totaling 700 gallons of water per hour, officials said.

City officials on Wednesday said the upgraded technology recently identified a commercial building losing 450 gallons an hour to an underground leak. The system also detected an apartment complex losing as much as 250 gallons an hour because of a leaking toilet, as well as several other smaller leaks.

“I was pleasantly surprised we were able to catch these as quickly as we did,” Glendale Water & Power General Manager Glenn Steiger said. “It is something we never would have been able to do in the past.”

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That’s because the outgoing utility meters lack the technology to communicate possible problems.

The average person uses about 80 gallons a day on indoor routines, such as showering and washing dishes and clothes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Tami Vallier, customer services administrator with Glendale Water & Power, said she has been reviewing reports from the new meters and flagging customers whose water use never seems to drop off, even in off-peak periods.

In the case of a 19-tenant commercial building, she said, “the meter was never registering less than 60 cubic feet per hour.”

The city first inspected the meter box to make sure its readings were reliable, she said, then contacted the property manager on Tuesday.

“You could hear the water flowing into the building,” she said.

The property manager identified the underground source of the trouble and was working on repairs Wednesday, she said.

Similarly, Vallier noted that usage never fell below 32 cubic feet per hour at an eight-unit apartment complex. The city contacted the property manager, and workers spotted and repaired a running toilet in one of the units.

The new meters are part of a $70-million smart grid system that Glendale Water & Power began installing last year with the help of a $20-million federal stimulus grant.

One benefit is that residents and the city can track water and electrical use on a regular basis, instead of the up to two months it could take before property owners saw their water bills and knew how much they were using.

Another benefit, Vallier said, is that sensors have been installed on water mains, allowing the utility to detect trouble on the network of water lines.

Crews began installing the new water meters in December, and should finish the process by June, Steiger said.

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