Steamboat's new water meters go high-tech


— Steamboat’s water meter system is going wireless.

Next month, the city will start a $1 million project to replace all of its 3,200 water meters with new meters able to transmit readings electronically without a visit from a meter-reader.

“The meters we are currently working off of are the original meters we installed in 1988 to 1990,” Steamboat Water District Utilities Superintendent Joe Zimmerman said. “They are basically obsolete.”

This year, the city raised its water and sewer rates to pay for the meter upgrades as well as millions of dollars' worth of other capital projects to improve water and sewer infrastructure. This year’s rate increase is the second of a three-year increase schedule.

Zimmerman said some of the other improvement projects made possible by the rate increases include the Elk River Road waterline replacement and the replacement of a wastewater main running down an alley between Oak Street and Lincoln Avenue.

“We’re doing a lot of improvements,” he said. “This is long overdue.”

Steamboat Finance Director Kim Weber said the city plans to invest $11 million throughout the next three years on the improved infrastructure.

Zimmerman said the upgraded meters will have a particularly tangible benefit to the city’s water customers. He said the new technology will allow the water district to quickly inform its customers of leaks and provide them with daily data about their water usage, sometimes saving them money and water.

He encouraged the city’s water district customers to call 970-367-6600 to make an appointment for the work to be done. It's estimated each meter will take about one hour to install.

The city’s water district isn’t the first in the area to upgrade its meters.

Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Jay Gallagher said his district now has upgraded 75 percent of its 2,450 meters since 2008 with meters almost identical to the ones being deployed by the city.

Although it hasn’t been used to police customers’ water use under the current water restrictions, he said the new technology can be used to easily detect excessive water consumption and usage spikes that commonly come from a running toilet.

“It can use 4,000 gallons a day,” Gallagher said about a running toilet.

He estimated that amount of wasted water would cost a customer in his district $4 to $5 per day.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

There are serious privacy concerns regarding wireless meters and especially those that can be continuously read. How those issues are being handled are not mentioned in the article.

It would be easy enough for the water district to determine the sleeping habits, number of occupants, watering on a timer and so on.

Also concern are the questions on the encryption and general security of the meters which could allow anyone to collect that data of what people are doing inside their homes.

Simplest issue is that a burglar can easily determine if a home is vacant. Or a stalker could monitor their target's activities and life inside their home.


rhys jones 4 years, 8 months ago

Killer idea, Scott -- if I had an ounce of initiative, I'd write a water-meter "app" (hate that word) for your Ipod so you can spy on your neighbors, in case they take too many showers or grow pot.

I smell a conspiracy too -- surely the Fed is at the root.

Just think of the invasive potential... now all we need is some REAL BORED crooks, to justify your otherwise irrational concerns. And thank you for your contribution.


Kevin Nerney 4 years, 8 months ago

How many meter readers can you employ for a million dollars? No wonder unemployment is so high, and no one wants to work, just let technology do it.


John Fielding 4 years, 8 months ago

. It seems a fair question Kevin. What is the recap time for the million dollar investment? It would pay a meter readers salary for quite a while. Will the meters wear out or become "obsolete" (like our existing 25 year old meters) before we recoup the investment? Are there alternate improvements that will help lower the costs of water service more or quicker?

Another important question, how is this data accessed? Can we log in to a internet site and see our usage on a constant basis? It would be handy to make a couple of mouse clicks to see if the boys remembered to shut off the faucet.

And how is the data transmitted to the City? Is there a continuous signal, like a cell phone? And where does the electricity come from to send the signal, a plug into the house power, a mini generator using water pressure?

Scott W, you are often the most well informed commenter on this site. Do you have any of these answers? .


John Fielding 4 years, 7 months ago

. If the objective is to save on meter reading costs we could take the approach of districts that have the real old style meters that have to be read by uncapping the ground box and writing down the numbers, not just touching a reader to the sensor pad like we do. They take readings as little as several times a year, never in winter. They bill an average amount based on consumption history.

Once or twice a year would do, the savings would likely be greater than the new meters reading cost, and the investment almost zero. If the council had not approved massive rate increases for this monopoly. it likely would be taking the approach of cutting costs instead of large investments in low savings equipment.

Do these new meters have a feature that allows restriction or regulation of use? .


walt jones 4 years, 7 months ago

It's a vicious cycle. If the new meters are capabale of restricting usage amounts per household think of how many gallons the districts can save (referencing article on mandatory water resticrions working in which Jay Gallagher said it's saving 700,000 gallons A DAY!) and then they can raise the rates because usage is down as well as income but they can stockpile the water!!!!!!!


Kevin Nerney 4 years, 7 months ago

I don't see how the mandatory water restrictions could be saving anything. They put a limit on when you could water(every other day and only before 10 am and after 6pm.) That doesn't say how much you can use. Instead of watering 20 mins a day you could now water 40 mins every other day. Or one could fill buckets of water on their allotted day and spill them out on the off day. Unless they limit the total gallon usage the restrictions are really just a guideline and hopefully people voluntarily follow them.


John Fielding 4 years, 7 months ago

. Kevin, that is why a usage regulator could be effective. A smart meter could be set to allow only a certain total volume per day or a limit on gallons per hour. It may be done by a person reading your usage and reacting, or if the meter is high tech enough it could turn itself down or off according to a pre-programed guideline.

I don't know if these meters have such capability, and I doubt it is in the current planning to use such tactics, but it is a point that should be answered.

My real question is whether this is being done in the interest of creating a financial savings for the district and the customers. If so let's see the numbers, investment vs savings, lifespan of the application, etc. And lets review the alternative savings methods (such as fewer readings) to compare alternatives.

If it cannot be justified on that basis, what is the motivation? Control of usage is an obvious possibility. . .


John Fielding 4 years, 7 months ago

. PS, I plan to have mine installed sooner than later. I hope it will allow me to monitor my usage easily. With all my gardens, greenhouses, animals, etc my average us is often well into the penalty rate. Knowing exactly where I am at a few days before the monthly reading could allow me to postpone watering till just after. Same amount of water, but if you buy it on a different day it can be much less expensive. .


Scott Wedel 4 years, 7 months ago

John, The meters lack the capability to restrict or stop water usage. All they can do is, to catalog how much water is being used when. Doing anything to automatically restrict flow would probably never happen anywhere because water is so critical that cutting it off could cause real harm. Imagine the potential liability if someone had a fire that got out of control because the meter shut off the water to put it out.

Reduced water usage does not greatly reduce daily operating costs, but over the longer term it can save a lot of money of not having to increase storage or building a bigger water plant or installing larger water lines.

To me, the big issue of wireless is whether the security was done correctly the first time. Things like whether it is pretty easy for anyone to go around and read everyone's water usage. For some businesses, a lot can be learned about how the business is doing by monitoring the water usage. And many people, in particular public figures, could be publicly embarrassed if their water usage patterns were released to the public. Or whether there is a strong privacy policy so the water district is not tempted to sell the data while claiming it has been scrubbed of personal data, but the data is detailed enough that combining it with other data (such as noting those accounts that used no water in the hours that water was shut off in their area to replace a water line) that the names behind the data can be determined.


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