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EWSA rolls out new meters
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Etowah Water & Sewer Authority is currently working to install more than smart water meters 5,200 in Dawson County.

The new digital smart meter will allow the authority to more closely monitor water usage and identify potential problems. EWSA tested 50 residents over the summer before deciding to go full force.

[The meters] met all of our expectations, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, said Brooke Anderson, EWSA general manager. Where weve been able to call and point out a leak before the customer even knows about it, before it wastes a lot of water and money, customers love it.

Only around 400 of the new meters have been installed to date, but Anderson expects the upgrades to be complete around March 2012. Townley Construction has been contracted to do the installations.

Customers are being notified about two days in advance that the work will be done at their meters. The actual meter change-out takes only five to seven minutes, so most customers will not experience any disruption. They are given a list of frequently asked questions and contact information in case they have other questions or concerns.

One concern that was expressed at the beginning of the project is security.

The smart digital meters collect and store usage information and transmit it by radio signals to a tower, where it is dropped into a DSL line to the authority offices and maintained along with customer account information. Some customers wondered whether information about them and their utility usage patterns would be vulnerable.

According to Jason Kendall with Kendall Supply - which is the company that supplied the meters to EWSA - all of the information that is broadcast via radio signal is encrypted and remains compiled until it arrives at EWSAs servers.

Weve had this customer data for the past 25 years, says Anderson. All utility companies do. The difference is we have a little more of it now.

Anderson says the authority uses several programs to combat identity theft and ensure data is secure. Data is stored on a secure server with firewall protection, and Etowah Water & Sewer Authority employees - and occasionally contractors on a need-to-know basis - will be the only ones to see the usage reports.

The authority said that with the technology available today it is as safe as possible.

This is the same technology used by Georgia Power, Jackson EMC and Sawnee EMC, said Anderson, adding that electric companies have led the way in metering advances. The big jump from the electric industry to the water industry wasnt in the technology; it was in incorporating the 20-year battery that allows the meter to work without electricity.

Once the meter installations are complete in the spring, Etowah will begin the next phase of the meter project, which will take customer service to the next level, Anderson said.

Now, you can go online and pay your bill, he said. When the project is complete and the testing is done, we will roll out web access. Youll be able to log on to your account and view your water usage on an hour-by-hour basis.

We will be empowering our customers to be more proactive in managing their water use and their costs, Anderson said. Residential customers will be able to see, for example, how much water theyre using when they wash their cars. Manufacturers, restaurants and retailers will be able to apply their usage data to create efficiencies and reduce expenses.

Anderson said the meter replacement project puts the authority in a good position to comply with the Georgia Stewardship Act passed in the 2011 Legislative Session. As part of that mandate, water utilities will be required to have annual water audits conducted to ensure conservation practices are being employed and to account for missing treated water, usually attributed to leaks that can be often be detected through the new meters hourly data collection function.