Water bill woes? Automatic vs. manual water meter readers

There are about 67,000 water meters in the City of Amarillo and only about 4,500 of those are automatic readers. That means, the other 62,000 are read by hand by water meter readers.

Emmett Autrey, the City's Director of Utilities, said that does leave a small margin for human error, but more often than not when a meter reading is incorrect, it's because the meter reported a number that's too low.

"The thing about meters, typically what we find and I'm saying better than 98 percent of the meters that we test if they do misread, they misread on the low side," said Autrey. "It's because of the way they're designed."

Many have experienced that month-to-month fluctuation of their water bill, and Autrey said, that could be for a number of reasons, like an estimation or a leak.

"They go back and look at the usage at the same time the previous year and they do an estimation based on the past usage," said Autrey. "Or, even go back over the last two/three months and see what the usage has been there. If they had a leakage pas through a commode or any kind of leakage in a residential system or if there is a sprinkler system on the yard that's not working properly, that can cause a jump."

Of course, if an Amarillo resident is using more than 30,000 gallons of water each month, the price of water goes up to a little more than $4.00 per 1,000 gallons.

"That can cause a pretty good jump. It's like going into a higher tax bracket," chuckled Autrey. "You get into that Tier 3, all of a sudden the price of water goes up."

The City of Portales is trying something new, though. For the past two years, it's been replacing every single water meter in town with a new automatic reader. Only about half have been installed and programmed so far, but officials there said they hoped the new system would be more accurate than having the meters read manually.

"By doing that we'll be able to read the meters virtually instantaneously," said the City of Portales Director of Public Works, John DeSay. "After the project is over with, we'll be able to scale back as far as personnel goes. We won't need a meter reader that we've been using for that."

DeSay added no current Portales employees would lose their jobs because of the new system. By the end of the installation process, the whole project will have cost about $1 million. A price Amarillo isn't quite ready to pay.

"We would like to be able to do more sites and add more," added Autrey. "But, we're not going to be able to, as we look as it right now, to completely put in a blanket system because the cost would be in the millions of dollars."

However, Amarillo will slowly keep replacing the older water meters and meters in dangerous or hard to reach places with the new automatic readers.

If you have a question about your water bill, your water meter or meter reading, contact the City of Amarillo Utilities Department at 378-3030.