A historic seaside town on Cape Cod, the Town of Orleans, Massachusetts, is a hot spot for vacationers and long-term renters, especially during the summer. In fact, of the more than 5,200 water customers the city’s water department serves, 75% are rental or vacation properties. That means, for several months of the year, the town becomes quiet, and many houses are not inhabited—an ideal situation for leaks to go undetected.
Since the late 1990s, the Town of Orleans primarily used TRACE® from Badger Meter, the water industry’s first drive-by/walk-by radio frequency automatic meter reading (AMR) solution, throughout its water system. In the early 2000s, Orleans began installing the ORION® drive-by/ walk-by solution from Badger Meter. Although the system functioned well, the city wanted to upgrade its system to an advanced metering infrastructure solution in order to increase equitable metering, improve customer service and operations efficiency, as well as reduce non- revenue water.
“A customer inquired about a higher-than-normal water bill and wondered how it could have been avoided. While we had been working hard to address leaks prior to this, we knew that an improved solution could be incredibly effective at identifying leaks more quickly and efficiently,” said Susan Brown, assistant superintendent of the Orleans Water Department. “We needed to find the right one.”
The Smart Choice
In fall 2017, the Town of Orleans issued an RFP for a fixed-network solution and ultimately selected a smart water solution from Badger Meter that included BEACON® Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA), ORION Cellular endpoints and the EyeOnWater® consumer engagement tool, which has smartphone and tablet apps.
“The town especially liked the ability of the EyeOnWater web portal and smartphone app, which gives its customers easy access to their water usage, even when they are away for the winter,” shared Ian Kasowitz, territory manager at Stiles Co., a wholesale distributor of water products that supported the Town of Orleans during its water meter installation project.
Another key selling point was the cellular solution’s infrastructure- free approach. By leveraging the existing cellular network, the solution offers flexibility, the latest technology and up-to-date, timely 15-minute interval data without burdening the utility with the hassle of managing network infrastructure. This level of information allows water utilities to gain insight and understanding into what is really going on within their overall water system. “Our residents are also particular about how the town looks. They did not want to look at ‘unsightly’ infrastructure,” added Brown.
The Town of Orleans began work on the new system in fall 2018, with the intention of rolling out a full installation during summer 2019. To begin the process, the city deployed a starter kit of 10 ORION Cellular endpoints over the course of one week. One Monday morning, the Orleans Water Department saw the first readings in the BEACON AMA cloud-based software suite. “An endpoint was reporting a 100-gallon-per-hour leak, which had been the result of a plumbing accident,” added Brown. “We were able to identify and address it right away.”
Over the course of the next several months, the town conducted trainings on the new system so it was ready to go for the summer deployment. The process, supported by Stiles Company and engineering firm Weston & Sampson, started after Memorial Day, with the goal of being largely complete by Labor Day. The team worked together seamlessly and, within three months, installed ORION Cellular endpoints across the system and switched out old meters with new Recordall® Disc Series meters from Badger Meter.
“Right away, we saw endpoints detecting houses where there were significant leaks. We actually saw a 400-gallon-per-hour leak at a rental property, where a hose was left running for days. As soon as we had fired up the system, we saw that the property was in the red and deployed a crew to the residence in 10 minutes to address the issue,” said Brown.
Beyond identifying leaks, implementing a cellular solution helped the Orleans Water Department more efficiently manage its staff. The department previously required one employee to go to locations with walk-up meters as well as an employee to drive the city’s small, dirt roads and driveways to capture radio reads. This process required two to three weeks for every reading period. These employees are now spending valuable time out in the field addressing critical issues throughout the water system. “We were putting out fires. Now, we can be proactive, rather than reactive, with our decisions,” added Brown.
Getting Buy-In with Customers
Customers are seeing the impact of the new system. The Orleans Water Department has moved to billing accounts quarterly, rather than every six months as is common in New England. Those bills now come with more accurate and reliable figures as well as an “ask” for customers to sign up for EyeOnWater.
EyeOnWater enables utility customers to view and understand their usage profile through easy-to- understand consumption graphs, and provides a simple method to establish email or text alerts to notify them of potential leaks.
“One of the oldest populations in the state lives in the Town of Orleans. Combined with our high percentage of rental properties and vacation residents, EyeOnWater will be incredibly valuable,” said Brown. “While we currently have relatively low engagement because we are still introducing the technology to customers, the ones who do have it, love it. They think, ‘I can’t possibly have used this much water.’ But we simply point them to EyeOnWater and show how and where they’re using their water.”
Whether providing helpful explanations to inquiring customers, reallocating resources to higher priority operational activities or checking daily reads via BEACON AMA, the Orleans Water Department moved to a much more efficient, accurate and analytics-based solution in 2019. “Our customers care a lot about the aesthetics and atmosphere of our community, and we want them to. This upgraded solution allows us to concentrate on what we do best—managing water—so our customers, the Town of Orleans residents, can enjoy their vacations and what makes our town special.”