Beyond Meter Replacement: A Small Community Profits From a Forward-Looking Embrace of Technology

A Massachusetts tourist town reaps multiple benefits from an infrastructure-free advanced metering infrastructure.

Beyond Meter Replacement: A Small Community Profits From a Forward-Looking Embrace of Technology

A web- and smartphone-enabled engagement tool gives customers transparency and helps water department staff resolve issues. Customers can view their usage profiles through easy-to-understand graphs and can establish email or text alerts to potential leaks.

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The Massachusetts town of Orleans on Cape Cod is a hot spot for vacationers and long-term renters, especially in summer.

Seventy-five percent of the town water department’s 5,200 customers are rental or vacation properties. So, for several months each year, many houses are empty, an ideal situation for water leaks to go undetected.

In the late 1990s, the town deployed the water industry’s first-generation drive-by/walk-by radio-frequency automatic meter reading system. Then in the early 2000s, the town adopted the next-generation, two-way mobile meter reading technology.

Although both solutions functioned well, town leaders in 2017 looked to upgrade to an advanced metering infrastructure solution in order to ensure fair and equitable customer billing, reduce nonrevenue water by addressing leaks, and improve customer service and operational efficiency.

The town selected an infrastructure-free, cellular-based smart water technology solution. Completed in 2019, the system has lived up to it expectations.

Finding the solution

The decision to upgrade to AMI came after one customer inquired about a higher-than-normal water bill and asked how it could have been avoided. While work to address the leaks was already underway, the town needed to identify leaks faster and more efficiently.

In 2017, after issuing a request for proposals for a fixed-network meter reading solution, interviewing vendors and reviewing all options, the town selected a smart water solution from Badger Meter that included BEACON advanced metering analytics, ORION cellular endpoints and the EyeOnWater consumer engagement tool, which has smartphone and tablet apps.

Town leaders appreciated the system’s web portal and smartphone or tablet apps, which give customers easy access to their water usage data, even when away for the winter. By leveraging the existing cellular network, the system offered flexibility, the latest technology, and 15-minute interval data without the need to manage network infrastructure. The timely information provides clear insight and understanding of the water system.

Immediate results

The town began work on the system in fall 2018, first deploying a starter kit of 10 cellular endpoints throughout the territory. The next morning, the water department saw the first readings in the cloud-based analytical software suite. One endpoint was reporting a 100 gph leak that resulted from a plumbing accident; it was quickly identified and resolved.

Over the next several months, key water department personnel received training on the system to ensure that it could be efficiently deployed for the summer season. The process, supported by Stiles Co. and engineering firm Weston & Sampson, started after Memorial Day.

Within three months, all cellular endpoints across the system were installed, and old meters were replaced with Recordall Disc Series positive displacement meters (Badger Meter). With nutating disc technology, the meters accurately measure household flows, providing long-term accuracy. They also read across extended flow ranges, including low flow, which the town saw as beneficial to ensure accurate collection of all usage from residential customers.

Right away, the water department saw endpoints detecting houses with significant leaks. For instance, the system detected a 400 gph leak at a rental property where a hose was left running for days; a crew was dispatched to the home in 10 minutes to address the issue.

Beyond identifying leaks, the cellular solution helps the department manage personnel more efficiently. Previously, one team member went to locations with manual-read meters and another drove the town’s dirt roads and driveways to capture radio reads. Each reading period took two to three weeks. These team members now spend time in the field addressing critical issues throughout the water system.

“We were putting out fires,” says Susan Brown, water department assistant superintendent. “Now we can be proactive rather than reactive with our decisions.”

Getting buy-in

After implementing the solution, the water department began billing accounts quarterly instead of every six months, which is common practice in New England. The new meters deliver more accurate and reliable bills.

Of most help to customers is the web- and smartphone-enabled consumer engagement tool. It gives customers transparency and helps water department staff resolve issues for permanent and short-term residents, who are among the oldest populations in Massachusetts.

Customers can view their usage profiles through easy-to-understand consumption graphs. The tool provides a simple way to establish email or text alerts to notify customers of potential leaks. When customers ask questions, a customer service representative can help them understand the data and provide answers efficiently and with certainty.

“While we are still introducing the technology to customers, those who do have it love it,” Brown says. “They think, ‘I can’t possibly have used this much water.’ But we simply point them to EyeOnWater and show how and where they’re using their water.”

Today, the town is leveraging highly reliable and secure cellular networks to make meter reading and system management more efficient, scalable and interoperable for the long term.

Whether helping customers, reallocating resources to higher-priority activities or checking daily reads, the town has an efficient, accurate and analytics-based water system. The upgraded solution allows the water department to concentrate on the business of water, so that customers can enjoy the unique experience of Cape Cod.

About the author

Morrice Blackwell ( is a senior solution architect with Badger Meter.  


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