The installation of 10,790 new water meters is set to start next month in St. Mary’s County neighborhoods. The radio-read meters should provide for more accurate gauges of water usage, which could save water and potentially save on water bills in the future, said officials with the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission.
New and larger water lines are also being designed for the Town Creek and Esperanza Farms neighborhoods in Lexington Park to be installed in fiscal 2015.
The Forrest Farm neighborhood off Brown Road in Hollywood will be the first to have the new water meters installed, said Dan Ichniowski, acting director of MetCom. Summer water-use restrictions are often put in place when that neighborhood exceeds amount of allowed by state permit, he said. Then work moves to neighborhoods in northern St. Mary’s like Country Lakes, St. Clement Shores, Wicomico Shores and Breton Bay.
MetCom held regional meetings about the water meter project last year; about 10 to 15 people attended each of them, Ichniowski said. Most people asked why they had to pay the same water rate as a neighbor who constantly waters their lawn or fills their swimming pool, he said.
The new radio-read water meters “will allow us to go to a use-rate based system with the [MetCom] commissioners’ approval,” he said. Though, “it’s not going to happen overnight.”
MetCom residential metered water customers pay a fee of $16.98 a month, plus other charges, for up to 18,000 gallons of water per three months. The overage fee is $2.83 for every additional 1,000 gallons.
That allows a household 200 gallons of water a day, Ichniowski said.
Currently some water meters are read manually and some are read with a touch wand. Meters are read once a quarter. The new meters will be read once a month.
It will help property owners be more aware of their water usage and detect leaks more quickly, said David Elberti, chief engineer of MetCom.
“We have over 8,000 meters over 20 years old,” Ichniowski said. “The lifespan of a water meter is 20 years. They’re not going to read well, past that age.
During the installation for those with water meter vaults, water service could be out for around 40 minutes and a person does not need to be at home during the work. For those without water vaults and indoor meters instead, work could take up to four hours.
The entire $8.3 million project should take 16 months. The work covers 103 neighborhoods and 23 more will be done in a later phase. Some 609 commercial water meters will be replaced as well.
The Town Creek and Esperanza Farms neighborhoods, about 700 homes, are not part of the water metering project. The water lines there are too narrow. “We cannot put water meters in that area because there isn’t enough water pressure,” Ichniowski said. There isn’t enough water pressure for fire hydrants there either.
The chief complaint there is whenever water lines have to be repaired the road has to be patched. There are 130 road patches in Town Creek and 73 in Esperanza Farms, Elberti said.
MetCom is planning to replace and enlarge those lines in fiscal 2015 at an estimated cost of $3.5 million for Esperanza and $5.5 million in Town Creek. MetCom’s capital budget has $2.5 million for Esperanza and $2 million for Town Creek.