By Rich Pollack
Concern over a water leak that led to one small neighborhood association receiving a $4,000 water bill has Highland Beach town leaders looking into new ways to detect leaks and save not just treated water but also a lot of money.
The issue surfaced recently after town commissioners received correspondence from Jerry Wolff, president of the Villa Del Alto Homeowners Association, who said that the association’s water bill for a two-month period was double what it should have been due to an undetected leak.
While commissioners decided against a refund to the association for fear of setting a precedent, the town has begun investigating several options that could reduce the impact of a leak, or better yet, help detect water-line breaks within a day or two.
One solution, according to Highland Beach Public Works Director Ed Soper, could be for the town to install a fixed-base, remote meter-reading system to alert town staff if it detected unusual usage, such as a meter that was constantly running.
“It polls the meter more than 20 times a day and theoretically could catch a leak within a day,” Soper said.
While he is still researching prices, Soper said, the cost to install the system in the town, which has only 600 water accounts, would likely be under $60,000 — about $100 per account — which could be paid over months or years.
Several factors, some unique to Highland Beach, are helping to keep the cost of the “smart meter” system down. One factor is that Highland Beach already has a system where meters can be read remotely by town workers in their trucks within close range of the meter. That “drive by” system could be converted to a fixed-base system fairly easily, Soper said.
Highland Beach’s size — only 3½ miles long — and its fairly linear shape would also be advantages because the town could minimize the number of repeaters required to send signals from meters to the base.
Soper is quick to point out that the system is just one solution he is looking at to help minimize the problems experienced not only by Wolff’s homeowners association but by a few other neighborhood associations and facilities over the past few years.
Another option he will lay out for town commissioners is to switch from a bi-monthly billing system to a monthly billing schedule so that any subterranean leaks could be detected sooner.
That, however, could come with an additional expense to the town for the processing and mailing of the bills.
“There are several ways to address the problem,” he said.
Town commissioners say they are open to suggestions but have to consider the financial impact of any fixes.
“We would have to work it into our budget,” said Commissioner Lou Stern, who has been working with Wolff and his association to try to resolve the problem.
“Certainly, having an undetected water leak is a waste of water and it’s also a waste of money.”