By John Schaffner

The contractor installing new automated meter reading (AMR) equipment on water meters in Atlanta accidentally installed 3/4-inch registers on about 3,500 meters that were supposed to be fitted with 5/8-inch registers, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Watershed Management (DWM).

The larger registers cause water usage readings that are too high.

“The contractor is in the process of inspecting and retrofitting the meters with the mistaken registers,” read an April 8 note from DWM spokeswoman Janet Ward to Dist. 7 Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook.

“Thus far, the contractor has inspected 1,773 of the identified 3,500 meters and has replaced registers at 231 of those locations,” Ward wrote to Shook.

The problem was identified largely as a result of the insistence of Kristy Gillmann, the president of the Peachtree Hills Civic Association, that the city send an engineer to her home to check the water meter after it had been retrofitted with the AMR device and her water usage began registering double normal levels.

Because of Gillmann’s persistence, the water agency finally sent a field engineer to inspect her meter, and he discovered that a 3/4-inch AMR device had been placed on her 5/8-inch meter.

Gillmann’s situation was reported in the April 3-16 issue of the Buckhead Reporter. Shook asked DWM for an explanation of the problem in response to the article in the Reporter and an e-mail from Gillmann to neighborhoods represented in the new Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods urging residents to check their water bills for unusually high usage rates.

As of April 10, Gillmann had received some 415 names and addresses within the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods’ area “where residents have seen a spike or unusually higher usage amounts,” Gillmann told the Buckhead Reporter. “Hopefully this effort will help the city field engineer team focus their efforts as they examine meters for this potential problem.”

Ward informed Shook that the contractor has 10 installers working on this issue. Once the contractor identifies and retrofits the meter, she said, the city follows up with a final inspection.

“The information is transmitted to our billing staff, and any high bills that resulted from the mistake will be adjusted,” Ward informed Shook. “These adjustments will be handled on a case-by-case basis as soon as the information is presented to the billing staff and will be retroactive to the date of the installation of the wrong register.”

In addition, Ward told Shook the meter contractor has work orders “to repair 846 damaged meters that are resulting in invalid reads. This damage can be due to vandalism, vehicles running over the meter and numerous other causes. Thus far, the contractor has repaired 267 of the meters identified as damaged.”

In her note to Shook, Ward assured the city councilman, “The contractor’s focus is correcting the issue with the registers as soon as possible.”

“It appears as though this problem will only account for some of the many, many water billing issues, but for the ‘lucky’ few the nightmare should be over soon,” Shook wrote to Gordon Certain, the president of the North Buckhead Civic Association.

“The department told me the mismatched meters/registers were spread throughout the city, rather than concentrated in Buckhead, and they agreed with my assessment that the contractor responsible for the poor installation work should pay for the repairs as well as water bill corrections,” Shook added. “As for the rest of us, the big independent audit of Watershed’s operations — including the look at their billing process that I legislated — should be out around the end of the month. It will hopefully identify the other problems.”

According to Gillmann, the DWM technician who came to her home to check her meter and the field engineer manager had not heard of the problem of the incorrect retrofitting of the water meters after the installation of more than 100,000 AMR units.

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.

Gillmann said she was told by DWM that her 5/8-inch meter would be replaced by a 3/4-inch meter. But upon returning from a business trip the week of March 30, she discovered that the contractor had simply put a 5/8-inch register dial on her old meter.

Gillmann also has a bigger problem that has not been fixed by DWM. The line from the street main to the meter on her property “is old, decaying and fragile,” she said. “Therefore, it must be replaced.”