Despite a high-tech water meter with real-time monitoring, one Abbotsford property owner didn’t know his pipes were leaking until he racked up more than $5,000 in water fees — and sent over half a million litres of water down the drain.
Darshan Sharma, who rents out a commercial property owned by his wife Nirmla on Montrose Avenue, was surprised to get a water bill over $500 two weeks ago. His building, currently rented to an antique furniture seller, has two toilets and three sinks, and water usage for the property has seldom exceeded $20 per month. When he called the city, they told him his next water bill was already over $5,000.
He hired a contractor as soon as he could to replace the leaking water pipe, which cost close to $3,000.
The city has a program to forgive large water bills for one-time leaks, and Sharma said they’ve told him his bill will likely be adjusted.
The high bill was doubly surprising for him, because he thought his Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) water meter, which checks water usage every hour, would’ve caught the major leak before so much water was wasted.
“How come nobody even bothered to call, when I’m losing so much water?” Sharma said.
Abbotsford’s smart water meters were introduced in 2010, with the goal of reducing water usage through early leak detection and real-time monitoring. They use a radio frequency transmitter at each meter, from a company called Itron, which regularly sends information about each customer’s water usage to the city’s utility department.
In a press release sent to water-industry news sources in 2011, then-mayor George W. Peary wrote, “With this new technology, leaks will be detected almost as soon as they start … residents will be notified almost right away which will save not only the costs associated with leaks, but assist with conserving the city’s water supply.”
According to Paul Doucet, the Canadian account executive for Itron, their transmitters sent information directly from customers to a city’s utility department. On a central computer, software analyzes this information to figure out if there are any leaks.
City spokesperson Katherine Treloar said Abbotsford’s software shows a leak alert for residential customers if they have no periods of zero water usage over three days. For commercial customers, the system is more complicated — many businesses use water continuously — and staff compare recent and past usage to see if leaks are present.
Leak alerts are then used by the city to send leak notifications to customers. Some cities have online systems or automated postcards; Abbotsford uses letters.
But Sharma is unhappy with how long it took for him to know about the leak — because of how much water was wasted.
“I don’t want to lose any water, because we’re short water already,” Sharma said. If nobody [can] check the meter, what’s the benefit of the smart meter, then?”