BLOOMFIELD — Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the state of New Mexico, Bloomfield's water meters are now smarter.
In December, water plant workers -- along with the city's Public Works crews -- completed the installation of smart technology in the form of water meter reading transistors connected to about 3,300 water meters located throughout the city. Crews began installing the technology in June.
Underneath round metal lids in the streets lie meters roughly four feet under the street surface that measure and record how much water flows past them. Now the lids have been outfitted with small transistors to send meter readings in an instant, creating an automated meter reading system.
What used to take two full-time workers an entire month to do now can be accomplished in a matter of hours.
The technology upgrade includes a data retrieval box no bigger than a briefcase that a water department worker can toss onto the passenger seat and, with a handheld device, draw data from as many as 500 meters at a time.
The new system gives the city access to the latest technology for collecting water usage data and also helps improve the data's accuracy.
"This really was a team effort, from the city manager down to the labor -- all in-house -- to make this happen," said Rubin Armenta, the water plant supervisor. "The nice thing is that we used grant money leftover from a tank project. The state was holding onto that money and if we would not have used it we would have lost it. We requested the money, and the state approved it. It didn't cost the taxpayer anything."
City officials last summer bought the upgrade equipment from a Liberty Lake, Wash., company called Itron, Inc.
"Two full-time workers used to have to punch the lids, using wands that could only handle 100 reads at a time. Then they'd connect the wand to a handheld, transfer the data and then take it down to City Hall to the utility office and deliver (the data) to them for billing," Armenta said. "It was 'the vicious cycle.' It never ended, like laundry."
Now the data is delivered remotely and instantly, saving the city fuel costs for delivery and saving money on a meter reader position or freeing up that worker for other priorities.
Some of those priorities include maintenance of the meters and tightening up weak pressure spots around the city, Armenta said.
"It's a big improvement," he said. "Upgrades at no cost -- who doesn't like that?"