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Capturing information about water usage, one property at a time

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Drive by Meter Reader
Meter readers for Denver Water can capture thousands of water usage readings from properties per day. The information is sent to the billing system. Photo credit: Denver Water.

For Denver Water’s meter readers, the service area in the city and suburbs can look like a giant Pac-Man game.

As the meter readers drive through neighborhoods in vehicles marked with our logo, a computer screen inside the vehicle lights up with a map marked by tiny dots. As the vehicle drives by, the computer records a radio signal from the water meter indicating how much water has been used at the property.

Each time the computer, using the signal, captures a reading from a property’s water meter, there’s a pinging sound and one more dot disappears from the map.

Each meter sends out a signal every 6-15 seconds. Those signals have a range of about 300 feet.

But if there’s something between the meter and the meter-reading vehicle — like a tree or vehicle — the meter’s signal may not be captured on the first pass.

Then, just like in the Pac-Man game, if a dot is missed, the meter readers make additional passes until they can capture the signal and the tiny dot disappears. Sometimes, Denver Water’s meter readers need to stop and try to work around whatever is interfering with the signal.

If the signal still doesn’t register, Denver Water will send out a technician the next day to manually read the meter and make repairs to it.

The meter’s information is sent to Denver Water’s billing system, which compares the latest reading with the previous month’s information to calculate the amount of water used during the month and sends the customer a bill.

Denver Water began installing the drive-by meter reading technology in 2000. It was fully implemented across the entire service area in 2007. The technology allows four mobile meter readers to capture usage readings from thousands of meters per day, which is more cost-effective than before, when 36 meter readers walked neighborhoods gathering the same information.