Water Career Spotlight - Water Meter Reader

City of Surprise Smart Meter
AMI Gateway location - City of Surprise
Patrick Wicks working on a water meter in Yuma.
Patrick Wicks checking a water meter in Yuma.
Monday, November 2, 2020

Water meter readers record water usage data for residential and commercial customers in their service area. People pay a fee for the volume of water they use and for the infrastructure (piping, equipment, and computer systems) that supports these services.

Advances in technology have made dramatic improvements in how the data is collected and used. Many cities and towns now employ “smart meters” which are electronic devices which can remotely read a customer’s water meter and electronically send their usage data over the internet. In the past, water meter readers spent much of their time in the field physically recording data on each water meter on their assigned route. With smart meters, water meter readers now have easy access to customer water usage, which offers a number of benefits to both the water service provider and their customers.

Let’s learn more about what water meter readers do and how technology has improved how they work by checking in with water meter readers Patrick Wicks, Daniel Trujillo, and Jordan Garner who work for the cities of Yuma and Surprise.


Interviewees:

  • Patrick Wicks, Water Meter Reader, City of Yuma
  • Daniel Trujillo, Field Customer Service Supervisor, City of Surprise
  • Jordan Garner, Water Meter Reader, City of Surprise

APW: Why is reading water meters an important career and what do you do?

Daniel:  The water that we as Arizonans use on a daily basis comes from two sources, “surface water” and/or “ground water”. Ground water is water drawn out of underground aquifers, and surface water from lakes, rivers, and canals throughout the state. Once the surface and/or ground water is collected (or produced), it is then the responsibility of each utility provider to treat and disinfect it to a safe, drinkable quality. Only after being treated is the water then distributed to end-users throughout communities through many miles of underground water pipelines.

This whole process of producing, treating, and distributing water is very costly. This is where water meters become extremely important. Water utility providers rely on water meters to calculate how much water residential, commercial, and industrial users are consuming on a monthly basis. Water utility providers then use these monthly meter readings to produce bills for each user. The money collected is what water utilities use to pay for the operation and continual maintenance required to ensure their water system operates correctly.

Every home has a water meter that measures its water consumption, whereas each school, park, business, and store can have as many 2 – 8 meters (and oftentimes more). As meter readers, we are responsible for visiting and visually obtaining monthly reads from every meter in our utility’s water system. We also install, replace, test, and repair water meters and repair small water leaks found in water meter boxes.

Jordan: As a meter reader, your primary goal is to capture a reading on the amount of water a customer’s household or business uses on a monthly basis. The data collected is used to determine how much a customer pays for water services.

Water meters are considered the cash register of a city. From the treatment of water, to repairing distribution lines, the revenue that is generated from these meters is used to maintain the water supply and infrastructure of our city.

Patrick: The city water and wastewater systems provide clean drinking water and wastewater treatment services to over 30,000 customers here in Yuma. Unlike many other city services, these systems are not supported by taxes, but by charging customers based on the amount of water used. To determine how much water is used, a meter is connected to each customer’s home or business. The meter is read monthly; a bill is produced; and the customer pays based upon the volume of water they use. The money that is generated helps keep the water resource systems running. The meter reader retrieves this usage data from the meter and becomes the first step in this process.

APW:   Why did you decide to get into reading water meters as a career?

Jordan: I got into this career because water is a necessity to survive. This is a career that will always be in demand. Currently, there are approximately 19,000 water meters in the City of Surprise, and more are being added every day for new build construction. Neighborhoods are broken down into routes making it more efficient for readers to gather meter data.

Businesses and residents will always need running water. Where there is water, there will always be a water meter that needs to be read.

Daniel: Like many young adults just out of high school, I felt the pressure to decide what I was going to do with my professional life. I decided that I could either 1) go to college, 2) join the military, or 3) get a job and start my career. I ultimately decided that I wanted to go to college, but because I did not know what I wanted to study, I would get a job in the meantime. I then learned that the City of Peoria was in the process of hiring Utility Workers for a new project they were starting. I did not know anything else about the job other than that I had always heard that government jobs offered great benefits and retirement packages.

It wasn’t until my first day on the job that I learned I had been hired as part of a small team that that would be replacing water meters throughout the city. At that time, I had no idea what a water meter was, its purpose, or how it functioned. I also didn’t know I had just begun a career and would have many opportunities to learn and grow over the next 15 years!

Patrick: I was working part time within the water department as part of the utilities department. An opportunity came up for full time meter reader. I looked at the minimum qualifications: “High school diploma; understanding basic instructions; and ability to communicate clearly” and I knew met these requirements, so I applied. I wanted to be a part of an important public service.

APW:  Is it easy to become a water meter reader?

Jordan: It is fairly easy to become a water meter reader. Most cities have job postings on their website. Some cities also offer temporary jobs reading water meters. Temporary jobs can be a huge help when it comes to landing a full-time position. These temporary jobs will teach you the basics about reading water meters and looks great on an application.

Patrick: Yes. Generally, you need to finish high school. Other requirements include evaluating how you interact with coworkers and the general public; essentially do you have people skills?  If you are able to talk and make new friends, then you have the communication skills and confidence to talk to anyone.

Daniel: Like most lines of work, the ease of entry into the workplace varies among the many water utility providers. For example, it’s often easier to be hired by some of the larger cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa, and Glendale than by some of the smaller municipalities or private water utility providers. It is simple supply and demand; larger cities have more positions than smaller entities.

You can always achieve an edge over others by educating yourself on the job and its requirements in order to tailor job applications to the positions you are specifically applying for and by preparing yourself for interviews. A great way of gaining first-hand knowledge about the job is to contact and ask water utility providers if they offer “ride-a-longs” for their field work.

APW: What type of education or training do you need to have to be a water meter reader?
        
Jordan: All cities require you to have a high school diploma or a GED. You do not need a college degree.  Most cities will require you to have a Grade 1 Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) distribution certification. Luckily, some cities give you up to 6 months to obtain this certification from the date of hire.  These certifications can also be obtained ahead of time through Maricopa Community College.  As previously mentioned, temporary work with the water department can help out when it comes to getting a full-time position.

Patrick: Beyond a high school diploma, you will need to pass a certification test that includes some math and reading comprehension. In Yuma, you have up to six months after you’re hired to pass the test.

Daniel: Most entry-level positions require applicants to be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED. Most companies allow applicants 6-12 months to acquire other certifications/training that may be required.


APW: What do you enjoy about being a water meter reader?

Jordan:  I enjoy the freedom you have when reading water meters. A lot of jobs today require you to be stuck inside behind a desk for hours at a time. I have never been able to work at an inside job like that. When reading meters, you are walking through neighborhoods on an assigned route. Typically, you will not read the same route two months in a row. This prevents the repetitive nature that most jobs offer.

Patrick: I like to work alone, and I like being able to rearrange my daily tasks in the order I want to complete them, so they are done in a timely manner. I enjoy interacting with the public and teaching people how their water meters work, and how they could save water keeping an eye on their water usage. I enjoy working outdoors and not being stuck behind a desk all day.

Daniel: For myself, the area I have always enjoyed the most was providing customer service. It is in dealing with people that I feel I make a difference. By helping customers lower their monthly bills, work out payment arrangements, and helping them figure out how much water they use every time they run their irrigation systems, we are able to make immediate positive impacts on the lives and wellbeing of our customers.


APW: What are the opportunities for career advancement?

Jordan: There are plenty of opportunities for career advancement. Reading meters is typically the beginning of a water career in most cases. Almost all cities have a budget for job training. They will send you to different classes around the valley and sometimes around the country to gain expert knowledge of the water industry. With the proper certifications and training your career path is endless in the water industry.

Patrick: The meter reader is an entry level position within the utilities department. Beyond meter reading, a variety of positions are involved in water plant maintenance and engineering. Some include maintaining water lines. Others include working in the city’s laboratory. Even more people are in office jobs in support of the water system.

Daniel: Throughout my 15-year career, I have had the opportunity to work and experience many of the different disciplines in the water/wastewater industry. Typically, you will find that each discipline has a series of 3-5 positions starting from the entry-level up to supervisor or manager/superintendent.


APW: How much do water meter reader get paid?

Jordan:  The salary range for water meter readers in the City of Surprise is $17.00 - $ 30.00 per hour, depending upon seniority and experience.

Patrick: The pay range for a meter reader in Yuma is between $16.05 to $22.48 per hour.

Daniel: At the City of Surprise, the pay range for our Field Customer Service Section from entry-level to manager is:

1. Field Customer Service Representative (or Meter Reader) - $18.57 - $ $28.25 an hour
2. Senior Field Customer Service Representative - $19.50 to $29.25 an hour
3. Field Customer Service Supervisor - $60,216 to $90,334 a year
4. Utility Billing/Customer Service Manager - $77,456 to $116,184

APW: How has the water meter career changed over the years?

Patrick: Water meter technology is advancing along with everything else. Meters once read and recorded by hand are now reporting their data through radio transmission without the meter reader leaving the truck.

Jordan: Technology in the meter industry has significantly changed how we read meters. The City of Surprise is now updating their water meters with smart meter technology. With the new AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) technology we can collect our meter readings from towers strategically placed around our city. Instead of going out and reading meters manually every day, we are now able to read them electronically once a week. This gives us more time to address customer concerns with high bills or leaks. Since our system is fairly new, only a few thousand households have signed up for Water Smart.

Providing the best customer service has always been our number one goal. With AMI smart meters the consumer is now able to monitor their water usage in real time through an application called Water Smart. They can set different parameters on their user profile so they will receive alerts if they have a leak or if they have higher than normal usage. Similarly, we also receive notifications if the customer is using a large amount of water compared to their average usage. This also helps all of us when it comes to water conservation.

These notifications may prompt us to head out to the property and make customer contact. Nine times out of ten the customer has no idea they have a leak or that anything has changed with their usage. Our three biggest leaks tend to be toilets, swimming pool auto fill systems, and irrigation. Many of these go unnoticed over time, but thanks to this new technology we are able to alert the customer to a leak faster than ever. This saves the customer money on their bill and also conserves water in this limited desert environment.

Daniel: The overall purpose of the job has changed, but how we do it and where our focus lies, has not. Most, if not all of the technological advances in the metering industry are being aimed at increasing efficiency, reading accuracy and most importantly, improving customer service. The most exciting technological advances, in my opinion, have occurred in the past few years. The water industry has come out with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to capture readings and advanced diagnostic data from meters.

The City of Surprise completed their transition to AMI in July 2020. It was done by replacing all (approximately 16,000) direct-read (or manual read) meters with smart meters. Aside from normal meter readings, smart meters collect advanced diagnostic data, such as: gallons per minute, tampering, reverse water flow, low battery, and empty pipe. The city also strategically placed seven data “gateways” on elevated structures (water tanks, towers, buildings, and light poles) ranging from 32 to 150 feet throughout the city. These gateways use radio frequencies (RF) to collect hourly readings and diagnostic data from every meter in the system.

Once collected by a gateway, data is then delivered to data management software using cellular technology. This software takes all the information and displays it in a dashboard that we monitor on a daily basis. From the data management software, data is transferred to a customer portal where customers are easily able to access and view their own current and historical water consumption data.
AMI has also allowed for water utilities to proactively assist customers by leveraging real-time consumption data and feature “system alerts” to notify customers of abnormal usage and potential leaks. By far this service, along with the customer portal, have been the most successful parts of the City of Surprise’s transition to AMI. Positive feedback from customers has increased at an incredible rate and we have even begun to see customers defend and promote our new services to others on the social media platforms that the city monitors.

APW: Will there be a need for water meter readers in the future?

Jordan: There will always be a need for meter readers. Although in the future I believe that the job title might change to more of a metering specialist. As technology advances our jobs are always changing. Here in Surprise, our group tends to lean more towards the customer service aspect. Helping customers is our number one goal and the smart meter is a giant tool in our inventory. Unlike the old style of meters, new smart meters hold data on an hourly basis for up to 90 days. This helps us pinpoint certain days and times that a leak could have occurred. There will always be water meters on homes and business wherever water is provided. Until there is no longer a need for water, I don’t see the metering business going anywhere.

Patrick: Absolutely! Meter readers will always be needed to check readings that look wrong; to get missing reads; to contact customers when necessary; and to assist in general maintenance of the system.

Daniel: I believe that there will continue to be a need for water meter readers for the foreseeable future. What will change and continue to improve is the technology for acquiring meter readings and diagnostic data, and how utility providers leverage that data to increase customer satisfaction.

APW: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this important career.

Jordan: You’re welcome. Happy to help.

Patrick: Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity to share what we’re doing in Yuma.

Daniel: There are lots of exciting changes happening to water careers and I’m happy to talk about the positive experience the City of Surprise has had converting to AMI.

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