Fort Smith to replace 36,589 water meters

Some bills might rise, agency chief says

Posted: October 20, 2017 at 2:37 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- The utility department is preparing to replace all of its customers' 36,589 water meters in the next two years, the department head has told Fort Smith city directors.

Department Director Jerry Walters said replacement of the meters will mean some water customers could see their water and sewer bills increase by up to 21 percent. Sewer bills are based on water use.

Some city directors said they supported replacement of the meters, saying it was only fair that customers pay for all the water they use.

City Director George Catsavis said he thought the city should delay replacing the meters. He said people are struggling financially and should be allowed to enjoy the break in their water bills.

"This is going to cause an uproar," City Director Don Hutchings said.

The utility department is hiring two teams of three workers who will replace the meters over the next two years, Walters said. The cost would be for the meters since the work would be done in-house. The project cost will be reflected in the department's 2018 budget, he said.

A chart Walters presented to city directors shows most of the meters, 29,506, were five-eighths of an inch in diameter and were for residential use. The size of the meters ranged up to 10 inches for industrial water users.

Walters said as meters age, internal parts begin to wear out and flow accuracy begins to decline. The meters under-read the water flow, and customer bills don't reflect actual water use.

Meters ranging from five-eighths of an inch to 1 inch that were removed from the city's water system and tested have shown an average of 21.3 percent lower usage than the actual amount of water passing through the meter, Walters said in the memo. Some meters were showing no water flow.

"This means that approximately 21.3 percent of the water provided was not accounted for and the customer was not billed for their full water use, and in some cases, any of the water they used," Walters said.

Of the total 36,589 meters on the city's system, Walters' memo said, more than 16,800 were 10 years old or older. Of that number, 9,500 were older than 20 years.

The American Water Works Association recommends that water meters be replaced every 10 years, because after 10 years they start showing wear and lose the ability to measure water flow accurately, according to the memo.

State Desk on 10/20/2017