AMI solution in Florida leads to enhanced meter reading, billing

By Bobby Barker

 


Miramar Beach, Florida, is a community located on the Gulf of Mexico known as the Emerald Coast. Situated in the southern part of Walton County and just east of the popular resort city of Destin, Miramar Beach has gorgeous white sand beaches and numerous recreation opportunities that attract thousands of tourists each year.

Since 2000, Miramar Beach has tripled its population, growing from 2,435 residents in 2000 to 7,385 in 2018. This explosive growth reflects the area’s emergent economic clout, creating several new issues to be addressed such as the decreasing efficacy of Miramar Beach’s outdated water metering system.

Problem Areas

South Walton Utility Co., Inc. (SWUCI) manages Miramar Beach’s water and wastewater services. In the past, one utility employee would drive around the service area reading meters but, as that employee approached retirement, the utility realized its metering system likely needed to be updated.

“We realized that having a meter reader who actually touched every single meter every month was becoming kind of antiquated,” said Alicia Keeter, general manager for SWUCI. “It was a lot for one person to have to read, and as we grew in size, we needed to adapt to technology and add automated metering infrastructure. Whether we did radio read or the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system—we weren’t sure which one we wanted to do.”

SWUCI also needed to address a regulatory issue that potentially could cost a great deal of money.

“The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which monitors and regulates our water systems with the state of Florida, wanted us to start changing out our backflow preventers every 10 years,” Keeter said. “One way we could work through that scenario is if we have a way to automatically detect backflow, then we don’t have to change them out as frequently, which helps save us money for the system.”

Choosing a Solution

The utility assessed a number of systems before making its decision.

“We did a series of interviews and evaluations,” Keeter said. “We had the different companies come and do their presentations to us. And based off the use of the network operations center (NOC), customer service from a local standpoint, and meter factories that were within the U.S. and adaptable to whatever needs we had, [we were] more apt to choose Mueller Systems.”

Brian Harwood, eastern regional metrology manager for Mueller Water Products, said “the Mi.Net AMI system is a true two-way AMI system that allows meters to be read without having to have a meter reader who drives around. All the information comes into the office daily via radio frequency back to a tower—a collector mounted on a water tank.”

The Mi.Net system connects meters, distribution sensors and control devices to provide near real-time data that helps SWUCI monitor water consumption and determine if any leaks exist in its pipes. If the system detects any problems, it immediately sends emails and alarms to administrators, who can address the issue in a much more timely fashion than before, which saves the utility money and reduces water loss. Additionally, the system sends an alert when backflow conditions are detected, helping the utility remain compliant with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations.

Keeter said that previously its meters were not reading, and they were not detecting the issue until much later. “We would go to zero usage not only one month, but two months, because of the way that we read the system,” Keeter said. “Then you have to go back out and check to make sure there’s not a problem with the meter. We catch these sooner now—within a couple of days. Whereas before, it was two months.”

She added that “from a conservation standpoint, we know what’s happening and we can work through the system. [Northwest Florida] Water Management District is the regulatory agency that we obtain our consumptive use permit from, and that’s one of their requirements—minimizing our water loss. So not only did it help us from a revenue standpoint, but it helped us from a regulatory standpoint.”

The ongoing installation and execution of the system has been a positive experience for both the user and provider.

“The project team overall was very effective for us,” Keeter said. “Just the fact that we have that great team of people, that large amount of people working with us to provide customer service, made the decision so much easier and makes our project work so much better. When there’s a problem, they know about it, and they quickly respond, react and take care of it.”

“The experience working with South Walton was fantastic,” Harwood said. “We’ve always had a very good relationship from the start, which is always key to the success of any project, in my opinion, because there always will be some issue that may arise. Between myself, our billing integration people and our NOC team being able to seamlessly work together and keep [the project] on schedule and take care of things, it was a really good experience.”

Looking Ahead

Keeter and Mueller are also discussing other ways to help the utility become even more efficient and keep up with Miramar Beach’s population expansion.

“We’re looking at leak detection, any type of shutoff meters for the future, and we’re going to look at the customer portal,” Keeter said. “Those are projects that we look forward to in the future with Mueller.”


Bobby Barker is Metrology Territory Manager for Mueller Water Products.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*