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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

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Energy Adviser: Water meter can signal problems


Just like tracking your fuel mileage can tell you a lot about how your vehicle is running, tracking your water bill and keeping an eye on your water meter are good ways to detect issues with your home’s plumbing.

“I check my water meter every time I’m out mowing the lawn,” said Clark Public Utilities Water Operations Manager Oscar Maciel. “I just flip the lid open as I’m walking by. Since I know I’ve shut all the water off in my home, I expect the water meter not to be running. If it is, I know I have a problem to fix.”

Water meters operate by tracking the flow of water moving out of the utility’s system and into your home or business. In older meters, the flowing water pushes on a mechanism that counts the gallons on a mechanical dial. In digital meters, which are increasingly becoming the industry standard, water spins a small device which is connected to an electronic sensor.

Mechanical meters require a meter-reader to drive out and literally read the meter. Digital meters are equipped with an encoder receiver transmitter that will broadcast the reading to a computer in the meter reader’s car as she drives by.

Clark Public Utilities serves about 38,000 water customers, mostly in unincorporated Clark County. The utility is nearly finished converting its customers to digital meters.

Electronic meters enable employees to perform many more readings in a day. For the utility, that means a greater efficiency and a better use of a worker’s time and. Digital meters can also flag themselves for problems with the meter, such as malfunctions or tampering.

Customers benefit from digital meters by receiving bills more often — typically on a monthly basis rather than getting them bimonthly — which makes budgeting less predictable and plumbing issues harder to spot.

“If customers with electronic meters have questions about their bills, we can look as far back as 40 days into the meter’s logs to look for any unusual changes or fluctuations in their consumption,” said Clark Public Utilities Water Office Manager Sarah Robinson. “Those abnormalities can help us figure out if there’s a problem, like a slightly leaky toilet or their irrigation system is running in the middle of the night when it’s not supposed to.”

The water meter should be treated like any other important piece of home infrastructure, that is with a healthy dose of respect.

While they’re not exactly aesthetically pleasing, they’re a critical part of delivering water to your home. If and when your home has issues with the water system, the meter will need to be accessible.

“For many properties, the water meter is the only place you can shut off the water to the whole house,” Maciel said. “That’ll be a must-do for many plumbing projects.”

So, as tempting as it may be, don’t bury your water meter under a landscaping bed or retaining wall. Don’t plant any trees near your meter. Even if the roots don’t harm the meter itself, they will wrap around and eventually damage your water line. That’s a repair that won’t be cheap or easy to make.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668