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City ramps up for water meters
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Ceres city officials are making plans to begin the process of converting all houses and businesses over from a flat rate to metered water system.

In response to a state mandate, officials are aiming to get water meters up and running by June of next year.

The state Legislature is requiring water metering in order to conserve water by as much as 20 percent.

On Monday the Ceres City Council approved a $276,800 contract with Triton Water Technologies to get the city on water meters. The firm will set up the contracts for meters, have them installed and and develop a meter reading and billing program.

Retrofitting houses with meters will be expensive, said Public Works Director Phil Scott . He estimates that the total cost will be $3.21 million. The city plans to pay for the cost of installing other meters by raising water rates.

The council stopped short of hiring a firm to help conduct the delicate matter of public relations as the city moves toward metering. Members suggested that a $90,000 contract with Lew Edwards Group was a bit expensive.

"I see so much of this we could be doing," said Councilman Ken Lane of Lew Edwards proposal, which includes a multi- pronged approach to educating the public about meters and the process of installing them. The council wants to retool the proposal at a lower cost at its next meeting set for Sept. 14.

Scott said that curbing water use will help the city. Currently the city gets by meeting water demand with its sole source of water - groundwater. In the near future Ceres hopes to participate in a TID plant and deliver system that will pipe water from the Tuolumne River, clean it and send it to area homes in Ceres, Hughson, Modesto and Turlock.

Surface water or not, the city has to install and read the meters.

"People will be more cognizant of their water use and be more dilgent to watch their water consumption," said Public Works Director Phil Scott. "Those who choose to use a lot of water will pay for it."

The state has devised a two-tiered strategy to meter all California homes where municipal water is used. It divides all houses into two categories: those built before 1992 and those built after. By the end of 2010, the city must install water meters on all homes built after 1992. And by January 2025, the state requires all cities to have meters installed on homes built prior to 1992.

"We're going to try to get all meters installed by June of 2010," said Scott.

An estimated 95 percent of all Ceres houses don't have meters.

Many of the newer homes have meters in place and are hooked up but not read. In other cases newer homes have an "idler" in place where the meter would go. In those cases, said Scott, a decision was made by the builder to not install a meter and have it turn while "wasting its life" when no such metering program has existed.

The plan is to install the meters first, then adopt water meter rates.

"The plan is to read for several months and see what their useage is before we convert them to the new rates," said Scott.

Newer technology makes meter reading a quicker process than manual reading. In the old days an employee would have to physically see the meter to take a reading. The city will be installing the "radio-read" variety which is both accurate and saves time in meter reading, said Scott. A truck rolls through the neighborhood while receiving information from each meter's electronic radio transmitter (ERT). The data is stored on a removal hard drive which is then used to transfer the data to the billing system computer.