Old water meters causing Vicksburg to lose money

Published 5:01 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The City of Vicksburg’s water meters are extremely old, inaccurate and in need of repair and the city is losing $1.2 million a year in revenue because of the problems, according to a report on the city’s water meters by Houston, Texas-based Water Company of America that was presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday.

The board took no action on the report Monday. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said after the meeting that Mike Necaise, Water Company’s regional manager for the Gulf Coast, met with the board last week.

“(Necaise) was telling me those devastating numbers and how much we were losing,” Flaggs said. He said Necaise needed to attend the Tuesday board meeting and give the report to the public.

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Water Company of America was initially hired by the city in 2016 to perform an audit of the city’s water billing system. It was hired again by the city in December 2021 to do a study of the metering system in conjunction with a study of the city’s water distribution system by Houston, Texas-based Trilogy Engineering.

“Water meters are a mechanical device; they slow down over time,” Necaise said. “They don’t speed up. So what you have is a mechanical device in a hole that’s slowing down. You’re not capturing all of the water that you should be capturing.”

Necaise said the city’s 11,000 meters — including 7,400 residential meters — are 23 years old and 23 percent of them are not communicating with the city’s billing system, putting a strain on the utility billing staff and the public works department.

“You have to go out and manually read those,” he said.

Trilogy, Necaise said, was to develop a water and sewer master plan, look at the city’s water distribution system and see if the city could account for the water moving through the system.

The study, he said, indicated that 48 percent of the water going through the city’s system was unaccounted for, meaning the city was billing customers for less water than it produced.

Necaise said 48 percent “is considered high for any system. The typical industry standard is somewhere between 20 and 25 percent.”

He said the Water Company recommended changing all of the city’s 11,000 water meters.

“If you put a water meter in the ground a month ago or two months ago or a year ago, you would probably exclude those but I’d like the professionals to get ahold of those meters and see if technology has changed,” Necaise said. “If you’re buying the same technology now that’s already in the ground, you’ll do a cutoff point and say, ‘We’ll replace all these meters; all of these few hundred that we have that’s compatible with the system.’”

The total project to change the meters is estimated at $8.5 million. Necaise recommended financing the project with a 15-year loan “because that’s the warranty period of a water meter.”

Under its contract with the city, Water Company of America gets 55 percent of all increased revenue resulting from the changes for six months. Necaise said the company would reduce its share to 20 percent and serve as project managers.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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