The Texas Water Development Board on Thursday awarded the city of Waco $12 million in financing for a system of automated water meters that will allow customers to monitor their water use in real time.
The financial assistance will allow the city to begin in the next year installing a system with 46,000 meters that can be read remotely, with usage data available to customers online.
The low-interest loan from the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, should save the city $1.2 million in the 20-year life of the loan, Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun said.
In an interview, Bruun said the two-year-old SWIFT program sets aside 20 percent of its funding for conservation, and the Waco project fits in that category.
“We believe it’s a very worthy project for what it will accomplish, both in water savings and what looks like monetary savings,” he said.
Two other Texas cities — Keller and Austin — also received financing for automated meter systems Thursday as the board approved $759 million in projects.
The system will connect electronic meters to the central utility office via a new wireless network, allowing instant meter reading 24 hours a day. Users will be able to log in to a website to observe usage and may even be able to set up alerts when their water usage hits a threshold they set.
“The biggest deal is that it gives the customers and gives us access to real-time data on water usage,” city utilities spokesman Jonathan Echols said. “It will allow them to monitor their usage in terms of cost and savings and conservation, and it allows them and us to find leaks more quickly.”
The new system would do the work of seven meter readers the city now employs, though staff will still be needed to service the devices.
Other meter readers would be considered for other jobs with the utilities department, city officials have said.
Echols said the project will probably take a couple of years to complete, and it will begin with the construction of the wireless infrastructure in neighborhoods.
The SWIFT program only funds projects identified in the state water plan, which is updated every five years. The most recent version in May shows a marked increase in water conservation projects, giving the water development board a strong slate of proposals.
“A big part of that was the 2011 drought,” Echols said. “People were able to realize very clearly how much can be saved. . . . There was a significant demand for the program this year, and we’re pleased to see the emphasis on conservation.”