GREENBRIER -- Small-town officials are asking Greenbrier residents to participate in a hearing next month regarding the Greenbrier Water Meter Replacement Project.

Representing the city's water department, Ronnie D. Hall spoke to Greenbrier aldermen during the regularly-scheduled March city council meeting last week, proposing four options he said residents should have the opportunity to weigh-in on.

Most of the city's water meters are nearly 20 years old and in need of updating, Hall said.

The Greenbrier Water System extends to residents as well as unincorporated areas outside city limits, covering approximately 46 square miles. In 1996, the city joined in on a water line system with Community Water System Treatment Facility in Greers Ferry. Currently, the city uses about 142 miles of water lines and has five storage tanks that store 1.35 million gallons of water each year.

As of Jan. 1, the city had 3,890 water meters installed. The majority of the meters are residential meters, while 50 are for commercial use — schools or irrigation uses. Of these meters, Hall said "only about 542 are less than 10 years old" and about 2,500 are nearly 20 years old.

Meters replaced in the late 90s are equipped with a drive-by collection technology. Using this system, it takes six working days to reach the city's water meters to bill residents accordingly each month, Hall said, adding that about 200 meters are replaced annually due to meter failure.

Replacing failed meters is costly, Hall said, advocating on March 4 the need to upgrade the city's water meter system.

"Currently [replacing failed meters] amounts to approximately 200 meters per year," he said.

Meters replaced in the past two years are equipped with the capability to transmit data via radio signal to a central data receiver, a process that could benefit the Greenbrier Water Department greatly, Hall said.

It costs the city about $37,000 annually — at $185 a piece — to keep with the need to replace failed water meters.

Upgrading the city's system will improve the water department's revenue stream and help catch water leakage early on.

The city desperately needs to upgrade its system, Hall said, adding that he has several proposals to give the city he would like residents to weigh in on during a public hearing.

"The proposed water meter replacement project is needed to assure the accuracy of the aging water meters as well as update the method of collecting the monthly meter readings," he said before the Greenbrier City Council. "With mete ages approaching 20 years, the worn metes may not accurately measure the water usage. Typically, the aging and worn meters will operate more slowly than new meters and report less water flow through the meter than the actual amount."

Upgrading the system, Hall said, likely would cut down greatly the unaccounted for water loss in the city, which was nearly 30.8 million gallons in 2017.

Requirements handed down by the American Water Works Association also make it necessary to improve the city's water meter reading capabilities.

The AWWA requires that waters meters read with at least 98.5 percent accuracy. However, the city's current system "typically falls short" of the 98.5 percent to 101.5 percent gap allowed.

According to Hall's estimates, upgrading Greenbrier's water meter system would help account for 40 percent of the "unaccounted for" water loss the city faces each year.

Giving a scenario where all meters reported 5 percent less than what was actually used, a new system would improve the city's readings by 12 million gallons (40 percent) when compared to 2017's numbers.

The 40 percent improvement would bring in an additional $50,000 for the city each year.

When replacing meters in 2017 and 2018, the water department began installing systems using Accurastream radio signal collection. About 350 meters have been replaced using this technology, Hall said.

Moving forward with the radio-reporting technology under Accurastream, Hall said about 3,500 of the city's 3,890 meters. If the city opts to use cell phone reporting data, 3,840 meters would have to be replaced because the recently-replaced systems are not compatible with the mobile technology. This number excludes the 50 commercial meters.

Hall further explained that meter collection is conducted via two methods: either drive-by reading or a radio signal (mobile) method. Greenbrier currently uses the drive-by method.

During the March city council meeting, Hall proposed four plans — three that advocated change and a fourth to "do nothing."

Each of the proposals the city is faced with features a different pay amount in reference to how much residents would pay per 1,000 gallons of water used each month. Each plan also cost the city varying amounts.

The proposals at hand are to:

Replace all meters, which includes an annual $22,100 management fee for the city and cost residents 63 cents per 1,000 gallons f water.
Replace 2,000 meters with central data-reporting technology, which includes an annual $22,100 management fee for the city as these 2,000 meters will feature mobile technology and the rest must be manually read. This option would cost residents 44 cents per 1,000 gallons.
Replace 2,000 meters while utilizing the drive-by collection method, which does not have a management fee attached to it because the task is manually performed by water department employees and cost residents 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.
Change nothing and increase the city's budget to $55,000 to cover water loss. This option would cost residents 23 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.

The Log Cabin Democrat will follow up with details regarding the pros and cons of each recommendation provided to city officials prior to the public hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. April 1 at Greenbrier City Hall, located at 11 Wilson Farm Road.