Automated water meters coming to Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach district customers


The Santa Fe Irrigation District is embarking on a five-year, $5.5 million project to replace its 7,300 water meters with automated devices that will send customer usage data directly to district computers on an hourly basis and, eventually, to a web site that customers can access.

Once the system is up and running, customers will be able to monitor their water usage, detect unusual spikes that could mean a leak, and also use the information to help them conserve water, said district officials.

“The biggest value (of the new system) is in helping customers manage their water use,” said Bill Hunter, the district’s engineering manager. “This is a primary tool to facilitate water conservation.”

Water conservation will continue to be an issue in the future, as California deals with its fifth year of drought, as well as other challenges to its primary water supplies. Santa Fe officials have stressed the need to continue conservation efforts, even though the district this month ended mandatory water-use restrictions that had been in place since last year.

San Diego County water officials have determined that the restrictions aren’t needed right now because adequate water supplies are available to meet the region’s needs for the next three years due to a number of measures taken, such as increasing storage, and bringing the Carlsbad ocean water desalination plant online, said Santa Fe Irrigation District General Manager Michael Bardin.

Another benefit of the automated meters, said Hunter, is they will free up the district’s three meter readers to perform other duties, such as maintenance, and reduce the risks to them of traffic accidents, dog bites and other hazards they face when out in the field. Those risks also include the occasional snake curled up in a meter box.

“Automated metering will be beneficial to our operations staff,” Hunter said.

The district’s board of directors approved spending $1.175 million on the first two phases of the automated metering project at its June 16 meeting. That work includes the installation of two antennas to receive automated meter signals, replacement of 1,262 meters, and software needed to run the system and provide real-time water-use data to customers.

The new system will cost about $55,000 per year to run once all of the current manual meters have been replaced, Hunter said.

The actual work could begin in August, after the Olivenhain Municipal Water District board considers a request to allow Santa Fe to install one of its antennas on Olivenhain property.

The first two phases of the project should be completed by June 30, said Hunter. After that, the district will replace a portion of its meters each year, as well as install additional antennas, until all of the current meters have been replaced with the battery powered automated meters, which is expected to occur in 2021.

The Olivenhain district is converting its meters to the same automated system that Santa Fe plans to install, which officials said is a benefit because the two districts can share information and assist each other with the transition.

Officials from both districts said they are confident the new system - which relies on automated meters made by Sensus USA Inc. - are accurate and dependable.

Olivenhain has been using the automated meters in 4S Ranch, which is within its boundaries, for about two years, said Kim Thorner, the district’s general manager.

While there were some issues at first with moisture getting into the meters’ wiring and preventing the signal from being sent, that problem has been corrected by better sealing the units, Thorner said.

Currently, 8,000 of Olivenhain’s 27,000 meters have been replaced with the automated meters. The rest of the existing meters will be replaced over the next four years, with a total project cost of more than $6 million.

“We would not be moving on past the first phase if we didn’t feel it was a success,” Thorner said.

Thorner also sees benefits from having a neighboring district install the same system.

“We can move through this together, and share lessons learned,” she said.

Studies have shown that automated metering systems are a powerful conservation tool, and that water customers who have them cut their water use by 5 to 7 percent, Thorner said. The savings came primarily from detecting leaks more quickly, as well as customers being able to get a more accurate picture of their water-use patterns, and eliminate waste, she said.

The Santa Fe district plans to create an outreach program to educate customers about the new meters as the project moves forward, said district spokeswoman Jessica Parks. The Santa Fe Irrigation District provides water to customers in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.

In the initial phases of the project, automated meters will be installed in Solana Beach, along the coast, and in the northeast portion of the district in Rancho Santa Fe.