Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) -- Answers to frequently asked questions

Links to questions and answers below:

How does AMI work?

Low powered radios installed in the water meter boxes and connected to the water meters will periodically transmit water use information to data collectors on OWASA’s water towers, buildings and other facilities, which will relay this information to OWASA’s offices. 

How does this differ from the current meter reading system?

About two-thirds of our water meters are read by employees who drive to neighborhoods and walk from meter to meter to read them and record the readings. The other one-third of our meters have radio transmitters and these meters are read by employees who drive close enough to the meters to get the readings. We read all of our meters once a month.

In contrast, AMI will not require employees to walk or drive in the community to get meter readings. Small, battery powered transmitters at meters would send information on water use intermittently (not continuously)  via antennae in the community to a computer system at OWASA.  The computer data will be available to OWASA staff to check for water use patterns that may indicate a leak (so we can quickly alert customers as needed), and customers with Internet access can  frequently check their water use on line.

Will AMI require a rate increase?

Keeping our essential services affordable is one of OWASA’s most important goals. Investing in an AMI system will not, by itself, lead to a rate increase for OWASA customers.

The estimated $6 million investment in AMI will be offset by avoiding planned investments in our current, less efficient water meter technology and by savings from operational efficiency improvements. 

Will I be able to read my water meter after the AMI device is installed?

Yes. Visual meter reading will still be available as a back-up for homeowner use.  In addition, customers will have access to a web portal where they can view their water consumption.

What will happen to OWASA's employees who read meters?

No current employees will lose their jobs.

The utility mechanics who read our meters will be reassigned to other tasks. Through normal job turnover, we expect to reduce the overall number of positions by eight over time (with no layoffs, as noted above). 

 Will this system pose any risk to my health?

Please click here for the 2011 report by the California Council on Science and Technology on Health Impacts of Radio Frequency Exposure from Smart Meters. Key findings include:

  • Wireless smart meters, when installed and properly maintained, result in much  smaller levels of radio frequency (RF) exposure than many existing common household electronic devices, particularly cell phones and microwave ovens.
  • The current FCC standard provides an adequate factor of safety against known thermally induced health impacts of existing common household electronic devices and smart meters.  
  • To date, scientific studies have not identified or confirmed negative health effects from potential/non-thermal impacts of RF emissions such as those produced by existing common household electronic devices and smart meters.
  • Not enough is currently known about potential non-thermal impacts of radio frequency emissions to identify or recommend additional standards for such impacts.

While few scientific studies have specifically focused on water meter AMI technology, the available studies (mainly associated with electric meters) come to the same conclusions as the many peer-reviewed studies of similar technologies using low-level wireless radio frequencies: no adverse health impacts. For example, a World Health Organization survey of published research concluded that there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak Radio Frequency (RF) signals from wireless meter reading networks cause adverse health effects. Although there is anecdotal information that some individuals may be hypersensitive to radio frequencies, there is no definitive evidence linking such symptoms to low-level wireless transmissions like those associated with AMI meters.

Typically, data transmitters at water meters will operate intermittently, not continuously. Our water meters are normally located a significant distance from residences and businesses and are close to the boundary of a street right-of-way and private property. (Street right-of-way is a few feet wider than the traveled roadway.)

Will my water use and personal information be secure?

Yes. Data transmitted by radio from a water meter will be encrypted and stored on a secure server separate from billing information.

What other options were considered?

The OWASA Board, staff and a consultant compared several options including continuing our current system, expanding the use of meters that can be read from a moving vehicle, and a combination of systems. The consultant’s feasibility study including discussion of options is here:

Will my bill look different?

Probably. We will be able to make our bills more informative with the AMI system but specific changes are to be decided in the future.

Will OWASA still send someone out if there is a problem with my bill?

It depends. With AMI, we may be able to use additional water use data to identify some problems, such as a leaking toilet, without visiting the home or business.

Will OWASA be able to tell what I am doing in my home?

No. The AMI system would be collecting information on water use intermittently (not continuously), however, no one will be actively monitoring a particular home or business.  The system analyzes patterns of use and reports deviations from the normal pattern (i.e. leaks, high consumption, etc.)