Purdy signs water system maintenance contract

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Utility services to introduce high tech solutions

The Purdy City Council has signed a 15-year contract with Utility Services, the Atlanta-based national company known for maintaining water towers, to run the city's water system, including replacing meters and detecting leaks.

The action followed several months of reports where more than half of the city's water supply, or 3.5 million gallons, failed to reach meters in a month, apparently disappearing in a series of leaks, both detected and undetected. Public Works Superintendent Dave Gatewood said the city had 10 major leaks in seven months. During October only 35 percent of the water pumped reached customers, after both two-inch and a four-inch mains broke.

In August, Tom Stechman, water system consultant with Utility Services, pitched a new service -- managing water systems -- that his company has begun offering to small towns. Concordia, Kimberling City and Lockwood have signed. Stechman returned in October to provide more details.

"Typically water meters under-measure the water that goes through them," Stechman said, recording about 27 percent of actual use.

Stechman stressed Utility Services is not a meter company, but offers an assets management system. Utility Services will replace all 478 active meters in the city with units that can be read at the touch of one button system-wide. A computer program will be added connecting the meter reading with the city's billing system. Not only would meters with the latest technology measure more accurately, but they would also save the city's public works crew at least a day-and-a-half of labor each month reading meters.

Utility Services also offers a leak detection system that uses helium.

"It's leak detection on steroids," Stechman said. "It's 100 times lighter than air. We are the only ones to do it. It's a technology brought over from Europe and can pick up a quarter a gallon a minute leak. We can find leaks fast and get an instant read."

Mayor Steve Roden noted the last time the city had replaced all its water meters was about 13 years ago, and meters were generally considered reliable for about 10 years. Stechman calculated by stopping the water loss, the city could save approximately $44,000 a year. Concordia projected savings of $20,000 a year. In addition, the city's well pumps would run less and the system would need less maintenance.

The contract calls for the city to pay Utility Services $54,731 for the system for the first seven years of service, then pay an annual maintenance fee after that. The city will also pay $35,639 as an investment fee in the meters. Payments will be made in the eighth year of the contract, which will run for 15 years, after which the city will own the system. Aldermen then can renew the contract for another 15 years, if interested. Batteries in the meters will last about 15 years.

"There will be a full-time project manager on the project," Stechman said. "The whole team comes in and gives you training. Future training is included. It's a partnership."

Aldermen expressed concerns that customers could see an increase in their water bills by getting a more accurate reading, at a time when sewer bills are already facing a hike to pay for the pipeline to Monett. Stechman offered to help create a newsletter for customers to explain the procedure. City Clerk Debbie Redshaw said the more accurate reading could reduce the need to raise rates.

Aldermen saw few alternatives. Alderman Wayne Rupp observed, "We could run out of water if we don't do something." After a closed session, the city council voted to sign the contract.

Stechman expected to have a crew at work in Purdy by the beginning of the year and complete installation in the spring. Each meter will have its own global positioning coordinates and a license for broadcasting a signal will be sought for each meter from the Federal Communications Commission.

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