By John Schaffner
If your city water bill has suddenly doubled or more, you could be the victim of an improper installation of a new automatic meter reader (AMR) register at your home, just like at least a few residents of the Peachtree Hills neighborhood in Buckhead.
Fortunately for her neighbors — and possibly unfortunately for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management (DWM) — such a faulty installation happened to Kristy Gillmann, who happens to be the president of the Peachtree Hills Civic Association and takes her civic responsibilities seriously.
Persistently pursuing an explanation to why her water usage was being registered as double what it had been, Gillmann got to a helpful Watershed Management field technician. He went to her home, met with Gillmann and ran his water volume test.
That is when the murky picture became clear to Gillmann, the technician and the field engineer manager, who had not heard of the particular problem after the installation of more than 100,000 AMR units, according to Gillmann.
It seems the contractor for the meter installation hired by Watershed Management installed a mismatching register for Gillmann’s water meter, which resulted in a higher reading than the actual water volume flowing through the meter.
The city has two sizes of water meters, 5/8-inch and 3/4-inch. But Gillmann said the newly installed AMRs have the register dial mechanism calibrated only for a 3/4-inch water meter. Gillmann learned that the contractor was supposed to replace any 5/8-inch meters with 3/4-inch meters, matching the calibration of the registers.
“That did not happen in some cases, and those residents are seeing a spike in water usage amount on their bills — measured and indicated in CCFs on water bills,” Gillmann said.
“Once I got in contact with the actual field engineers group and even the contractor servicing our area, they have been very available to answer my questions and work with me to ensure a timely resolution,” she said. “Nonetheless, it took some insisting on my part to get someone out here in person.”
Determined to get to the bottom of why her water bill more than doubled after the AMR register was installed on her water meter, Gillmann initially called customer service at DWM.
The customer service and program performance teams at the city department were quick to suggest that Gillmann’s doubled meter reading was normal and that “it meant nothing that it occurred at the same time of the meter installation,” Gillmann said. “Naturally, I strongly disagreed. It was not normal water usage for me.”
It took sending an e-mail to Debra Henson, DWM’s deputy commissioner for the Bureau of Program Performance, “and my insisting that a field technician come to my home when I could be here to meet him in person” to get to the bottom of the problem.
Gillmann said she has no idea whether the same contractor did installations all over Buckhead. Nor does she know how many meters were improperly retrofitted with the new AMR registers. She does know of two or three more addresses within Peachtree Hills where it happened.
As president of the neighborhood association, Gillmann did send an e-mail to members suggesting they check their water bills, based on her experience. She also is working through the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods to get the word out to other Buckhead neighborhoods.
As for Gillmann’s own case, it is even more complicated and requires a greater fix. “It seems my line from the street main to my meter on my property is old, decaying and fragile,” she said. “Therefore, it must be replaced first in order to ensure safe turn-off/on of my water and replacement of my meter unit.”