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City ordering water meters
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The Ceres City Council proceeded with the purchase a state-of-the-art water meter system that it previously questioned if the city could afford.

During Monday night's council meeting, the city approved a $2.6 million system to retrofit every residence and business in Ceres on water meters which can be read through an automated radio transmitter system.

The council preferred the AMI, or Advanced Metering Infrastructure, system because its instantaneous radio data collection will enable city officials to track water use cycles and water demand. Each resident will be able to monitor water use in real time through an online account. Residents will be able to learn what their bills will be and immediately able to identify if they have leaks before they get surprised with a larger-than-expected bill.

The grand total for the city to switch over to water meters will be $4.3 million. The city plans to cover the expense through $3.2 million of water bonds the city issued last year, and the remainder from a water quality "sinking fund."

Initially the council was leaning toward a less expensive water meter reading system whereby employees would drive through neighborhoods with a radio receiver to pick up data in close proximity to meters. But in December Jim Henry of Golden State Flow Measurement, Inc., suggested that the city could afford the AMI system - even though more expensive - because he could trim $420,000 of the $700,000 in extra costs. Henry believed the savings could be realized by reusing about 5,000 existing water box lids and installing one transmitter in instances were neighbors' boxes are close together. But on Feb. 8 Henry reported that there are fewer instances of joint box opportunities than believed and he could only find $254,000 in savings. The council asked him to sharpen his pencil and see if he could reduce costs and on Monday came up with $336,500 trimmed off the extra costs.

Mayor Anthony Cannella said he was pleased Golden State came down within the range pledged but noted it was "not exactly where we hoped it would be." He still reiterated his preference for the system because it allowed residents to better monitor water use.

Councilman Chris Vierra wanted assurances that Ceres was not a "guinea pig" test case in using the AMI system. Susie McMullan of Triton Technologies, the consultant overseeing the management of the switchover, said that she checked with six cities using the system and called it "proven." She noted, however, that most cities have a replacement program to switch out meters every 10 to 15 years since they tend to slow down when they wear out and could result in the city being shortchanged in revenue.

The council approved the Golden State contract by a 4-1 vote with Guillermo Ochoa voting no.

The state is requiring all California cities to go to water meters under a two-phase plan. It divides all houses into two categories: Those built before 1992 and those built after. By the end of this year, cities must install water meters on all homes built after 1992. By January 2025, the state requires all cities to have meters installed on homes built prior to 1992. The city of Ceres, however, is installing meters on all homes this year for two reasons. City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt said it's the most fair and equitable way to treat residents and meters are expected to decrease water use by 20 percent.

The city of Ceres has yet to develop metered rates. Rates will be based on existing usage and customers will get a mock bill the month preceding the month the metering will begin.