Portsmouth takes water system high tech

The city of Portsmouth Water Division has begun installation of a system that will use radio and Ethernet connections to check the nearly 8,000 water meters in the Portsmouth water system, which serves Portsmouth, Newington, New Castle and Rye as well as locations in Greenland, Madbury, Dover and Durham.

“This project will enable us to provide our residential customers with monthly bills, rather than sending them every four months,” said David Allen, deputy public works director. “It also will improve customer service and allow us to quickly detect leaks in the system, as well as get a daily reading of system-wide consumption to evaluate our production needs.”

The first phase of the $1.9 million Automatic Meter Reading – or AMR — project began March 17 and involves installation of 1,250 meters downtown in the central business district and the residential area between Richards Avenue and the Piscataqua River. This phase is expected to take two months to complete.

The project involves installing a “firefly” connected to each meter that will transmit readings to a “gateway” central collection unit, which will then send data daily to City Hall and the public works department. The firefly has features that will help the city identify leaks in the system.

“We currently know how much water is put into the system each day, but with meter reads taking place only every four months, it is difficult to get an accurate relationship between production and consumption,” Allen said. “The new system will improve our ability to track down unaccounted for water losses.”

Currently, Portsmouth Water Department employees travel to each meter location to collect a reading with a handheld “reading gun” every four months, with the exception of some larger commercial accounts that are read monthly. There also are a number of “meter pit” locations that require meter readers to go into manholes to manually collect readings from meters. The information is downloaded and then electronically transferred to the billing office for the creation of a bill.

With the AMR system, all billing for water and sewage usage will be monthly, beginning in May for the first phase of implementation.