Finding new and better ways to manage finite water resources is a vital task for any water district. Effective system management saves water and reduces costs for the district and its customers. Rowland Water District (RWD), based in Rowland Heights in Los Angeles County (L.A. County), is doing just that with its new smart metering program, which is greatly improving leak detection, reducing reading time, and improving efficiency for the district and the communities it serves. In this interview, Allen Davidson, RWD’s field operations supervisor, tells Municipal Water Leader about the innovative smart meter system and how RWD intends to continue being on the forefront of implementing new technologies into the future.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Allen Davidson: I started in the water industry in 2006, working for the City of La Habra as a maintenance I worker. I worked there for about 5 years and then got a job at RWD. I came in as a maintenance I worker and did that for about a year before working into a maintenance II position, running the crew out in the field. I did that for another 2 years before being promoted to the position I’m in now, field operations supervisor. I’ve been doing this for about 7 years and have been at RWD for about 10 years.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about RWD.
Allen Davidson: RWD was established in 1953. Our service area encompasses a 17.2‑square-mile area in southeastern L.A. County. We currently provide potable and recycled water to approximately 58,000 people. We have 13,500 service connections in Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, La Puente, and the cities of Industry and West Covina.
Municipal Water Leader: Why did the district decide to convert to smart meters?
Allen Davidson: At RWD, we’re always looking for technology advancements that can allow us to reduce costs and conserve water. The advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project complements other investments that we’ve made. We’ve tried to make our office paperless. We’ve also started using iPads in the field to increase communication and reduce the time we need to spend going back and forth to and from our office. We work to reduce fuel and carbon dioxide emissions. Basically, we seek to increase efficiency and reduce operating costs for our customers.
Municipal Water Leader: What kind of meters are you using, and how did you select them?
Allen Davidson: We chose to go with Master Meter’s Allegro AMI system. On our first go around, we moved from walk reading to a wired automatic meter reading system. Under that system, the meters were wired to modules that sent a frequency to a laptop in our truck as we’d drive by to get a reading. The two major issues facing RWD consisted of wires getting pinched or cut by field service staff when they lifted, opened, and closed the lids and of gophers chewing through the wires. Given these problems, we were searching for a wireless AMI system in which all electronics would be contained within the module. We looked at a few different products, but Master Meter’s was the only one we found that was truly wireless. That was a big selling point for us.
Municipal Water Leader: The new system directly reports all its measurements to your office, correct?
Allen Davidson: That’s correct. The system currently gets a read every 12 hours and uploads it to its Harmony MDM software platform. That information is available to us 24/7.
Municipal Water Leader: Did you seek grant funding for this upgrade, or was it something you paid for through your regular capital budget?
Allen Davidson: The AMI project was basically funded through the district’s capital improvement budget. We wanted to ensure that it would be a smooth transition, so we did some careful planning and chose to do the project in sections over several years. We know that at some point these are going to fail, and we didn’t want to have 13,500 service connections go out at the same time. We wanted to minimize disruption and control costs.
Municipal Water Leader: How will the AMI system save your customers water and money?
Allen Davidson: The AMI system empowers customers by providing detailed information, daily and weekly usage monitoring, and phone leak alerts. Leaks are probably our biggest concern, and without this tool, we were unable to identify leaks on a customer’s property unless staff or customers notified the district about them. Now, we’ll immediately know when a customer has a water leak. It’ll cut down water loss, reduce consumption, eliminate a lot of high bills, and promote conservation and water use efficiency awareness.
Municipal Water Leader: How does the system sense a leak on a customer’s property?
Allen Davidson: It constantly monitors water usage and can flag continuous usage. If there’s continuous usage for an hour, it’s going to be able to tell that there may be a leak in the customer’s home—and if there’s continuous usage for 24 hours, it will raise an alert. A lot of on-property leaks were too small for our old metering system to pick up on. The new AMI system can actually read to a 1,000th of a cubic foot, so it will be able to identify many small leaks that the old system wasn’t able to identify.
Municipal Water Leader: How will the AMI system change the district’s operations?
Allen Davidson: What used to take us a month to read we can now literally read in a day. As I mentioned, we will also be able to identify even small on-property leaks. It will also free up RWD staff to work on preventative maintenance throughout the distribution system.
Municipal Water Leader: Would you tell us about your Harmony software system? How do the data from the meters come into the program, and what can you do with the data?
Allen Davidson: The new AMI interface that we’re trying to transition to will show customers their daily use. They’re going to be able to set notifications for specific water usage amounts. They’re also going to be able to set parameters for their desired daily usage. It’s going to give them some guidelines and provide them a first look at what their bill will look like. Before, customers would see a bill once a month or once every 2 months and want to know why their bill was so high. This tool will give them and us better insight into what they use each day, which days they use a lot of water on, and why.
Municipal Water Leader: Would you tell us about RWD’s other water conservation initiatives?
Allen Davidson: We do a lot of public outreach to promote water conservation. We continue to update our website weekly to better educate our customers on how crucial it is to save and conserve water. A lot of people don’t understand that water is a limited resource. They’re not aware of how precious water really is.
Municipal Water Leader: At what point will RWD’s entire system be converted to the AMI system?
Allen Davidson: Currently, we’re more than 90 percent converted. We’re hoping to have the district fully converted by June 2022.
Municipal Water Leader: Is the district currently working on any other infrastructure upgrades?
Allen Davidson: We currently have six repeaters and three AMI towers, which receive signals from each module and send information to the Harmony software platform. We are currently adding a seventh repeater to the infrastructure but will be testing at different sites to maximize its coverage.
Municipal Water Leader: What is your vision for the future of RWD and its operations?
Allen Davidson: We’re always trying to look at what technology is going to bring us into the future. We were big on building our GIS system when that was the latest technology. RWD has always pushed advancement in technology to gain efficiency. I think a lot of that will relate to how we read meters. We’ll install AMI, and then within the next 10–15 years, it’ll probably be replaced by another, more efficient reading system. We just need to be open to that and keep adapting as new technology becomes available.