Defenders: Smart Meters catching leaks before customers notice in Cedar Park

A possible fix to those high water bills. The three-year-long effort by the Defenders to report on high water bill issues has already resulted in changes in billing structure in Austin. Now, one Austin suburb thinks it has the fix.

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Right now, Austin Water has people who physically go house to house to read people's water meters. But a growing number of cities are eliminating the human element and electronically reading those meters. The results are being seen right here in Central Texas.

Along every street in Cedar Park, in every neighborhood, something big has changed.

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“I figure the city probably saved me $100 or more on my water bill by calling me,” said Cameron Turner who has lived in his home three years. “They looked me up, found my contact information and said you're losing 100 gallons of water an hour.”

A leak in his front yard that Turner had not noticed.

“The water was just kind of bubbling out of the box here,” he said, showing where the main water line connects with his house.

In the last eight months, Cedar Park has alerted more than 300 residents, like Turner, of leaks.

“They're ranging anywhere from 20 gallons an hour up to 300 gallons an hour, or more,” said Utility Programs Manager Nannette McCartan.

Leaks that would have gone undetected for months, caught within hours, thanks to newly installed smart meters. The new meters installed last summer have wiring that connects to a city portal and allows city workers and customers to track water usage and loss down to the hour.

McCartan showed us the graphs that customers can pull up on their computers.

“This is last month's usage. It shows a customer used about 6,000 gallons, and this is where they are so far this billing period,” she said.

The new system even allows you to set vacation alerts.

Some worry these new smart meters will also allow cities to play big brother or crack down on people not following the rules or the watering schedule. The City of Cedar Park says the system cannot see whether you're using water inside your house, like your dishwasher or outside with your garden hose.

“We would not use this to penalize customers. We don't know what you're using the water for,” she said.

Turner has no complaints. He’s grateful the new metering system helped the city pinpoint a problem and saved him money.

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“I think that part is pretty cool,” said Turner.

A growing number of cities are installing these smart meters, including Austin.

According to Austin Water, 164 smart meters have been installed in the Riverplace neighborhood, 162 in Glenlake, 20 in the Mueller development, 170 are also in place on the Pecan Street project. Mueller also has 33 Echologic leak detection devices.

The City is using all of this information to study water use patterns to be able to help consumers better conserve. And the rest of the smart meters are set to be in place in 2023.

If you live in Cedar Park and want to set up alerts or monitor your water usage on your smart water meter, go here.