Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) is in the process of implementing an automated water meter reading system that helps conserve water, supports operations and improves the customer service experience for its customers throughout the region.
External consultants were engaged, a proof of concept trial was undertaken and in March 2023, the first of the smart water meters were installed. As a strong advocate for water conservation, TRC Waste and Water Committee Chair, Cr Rebecca Vonhoff, said she was delighted to see the project moving to this next stage.
“After progressing the project from the first concept stage, it’s great to see we are now at a point where smart water meters are being installed at homes throughout the region,” Cr Vonhoff said.
“This is something we have spent a lot of time and money on as it has such a significant impact on our community.”
When Council first engaged an external consultant, it outlined the following key objectives:
- Monitoring water usage to inform short and long-term business decision making
- Seeking opportunities to align with the Demand Management Strategy
- Ensuring functional objectives are specific to the operating context of TRC
- Keeping the current billing system intact
In addition to the identified objectives of the business case itself, Council also expressed other desired outcomes that included:
- Minimising re-reads, misreads and estimated bills
- Providing detailed consumption data to customers
- Reducing staff time dedicated to meter maintenance
- Replacing aging/failing infrastructure
- Utilising new technology to deliver better demand management outcomes
“Once Council was satisfied it had established clear objectives for the program, the next steps were to find a company that could deliver this solution and to begin a proof of concept trial,” Cr Vonhoff said.
“As part of the trial, almost 2,000 smart water meters were installed in 65 different suburbs/towns, covering 102 of the 106 routes Council uses.
“With an area of almost 13,000km² that includes a large number of rural properties, it was important we knew the technology would work at all of these locations.
“From a technology perspective, the devices met Council’s objectives and any areas where there were potential blackspots, our consultants were tasked with finding solutions before we began the full rollout.
“While it was pleasing to see the technology solution in place, the real benefit we saw in the trial was through the water loss identified through potential leaks.”
Leaks detected on the customer side of the supply network were on average in the range of 12 per cent from the data available. The largest leaks were referred to the Rates and Revenues Section of Council for immediate follow-up and investigation.
“This suggested substantial improvements could be gained by giving approval for the smart water meters program to be rolled out more broadly,” Cr Vonhoff said.
“This will likely be the most significant change in operational improvements and greatly assist with the region’s water security.
“There is no doubt water is our most precious resource so it’s crucial we’re doing everything we can to further strengthen our position.
“When you think back to 2010 when our combined dam levels were around seven per cent, the thought of now being in a position where we can identify opportunities like this to improve our water security, the answer was fairly straight forward – this was something we simply had to do.”
Council approved the full implementation of the Smart Water Metering Solution across all water connections in the Toowoomba Region at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on 15 November 2022. Approval was given for the rollout of 66,000 meters in total, with the first of the meters in the ground from March 2023.
“With the meters now being installed, attention has turned to making sure our community is part of this journey with us,” Cr Vonhoff said.
“This is a significant shift from how we read water meters.
“The digital reading of these smart water meters will provide residents with analytics that will alert them and our team to any significant spikes in usage.
“In addition to the new water meters, residents will be able to download an app to monitor their own usage.
“With customers being able to access data through the app, it’s anticipated they will be able to better understand their own water habits, making them more aware of their water consumption.
“This helps residents take more ownership of the role they can play within the Toowoomba Region.
“As meters are constantly recording all flow, the theft of water will also become less likely which is again another opportunity to improve our water security.”
Over the next three years as meters are installed, Council’s Water Operations and Planning team will systematically gain visibility of network performance as meters are deployed. As meters are deployed in zones, leaks on Council assets will become easier to find as zone balancing can be achieved. The sum of all meters should match the Council zone meter.
Discrepancies in these zones help narrow likely sources of leaks on Council infrastructure. Knowing where and how much water is moving and when is key information for hydraulic modelling. These data points could vastly improve hydraulic modelling and help improve future demand management and planning for future infrastructure replacement and renewal programs.