Faribault's inaccuracy issue with Sensus water meters installed in 2009 is not an isolated incident -- cities in Oklahoma, Hawaii, Texas and New York have also experienced problems.
In March 2009, the city of Muskogee, Okla. discovered roughly 3,000 meters installed two years earlier were not correctly registering water use, which lost the city an estimated $500,000 in water revenue, according to a report from the Muskogee Phoenix.
Sensus agreed not to charge the city, according to the report.
In November 2011, Saranac Lake, N.Y., discovered as many as 400 Sensus water meters installed since 2009 could be defective based on a selection pulled by city workers, according to a report from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
In that instance, Sensus agreed to replace the defective meters and reimburse the city for its labor, according to the report.
In Honolulu, Hawaii, the Board of Water Supply for the city and county of Honolulu reported Sensus meter component failures and defects as early as 1999.
Public documents from October 2009 reveal the board and Sensus "amicably resolve(ed) the dispute," with Sensus providing credits for purchase of Sensus products.
In July 2011, Katy, Texas, replaced 8-year-old Sensus meters that were malfunctioning because the batteries were not encased in waterproof compartments, according to a report from the Katy Times.
The council voted to dip into $260,000 of reserve funds to replace 1,000 defective meters, according to the report.
How Faribault got here
Faribault on Tuesday released a statement that said the city was "(A)ggressively focusing its efforts" to pursue all legal claims against Sensus and HD Supply Waterworks.
The city contracted with HD Supply Waterworks based in Eden Prairie to install Sensus water meters in 2009, as part of the $1.8 million project to replace 7,400 meters citywide.
Sensus is the world’s largest manufacturer of water meters, with its headquarters located in Raleigh, N.C., according to its website.
Below is a series of exchanges between the city and HD Supply obtained by the Daily News with a public information request.
On Jan. 20, the city informed both HD Supply and Sensus they would be filing a warranty claim over the inaccuracies -- but HD Supply firmly states that mineral deposits in the water are the cause of the problems, and that the city needs to look at a water-centric solution:
On Dec. 22, 2011 HD Supply informed Faribault of independent testing results from a pair of meters pulled in the city due to high consumption complaints. It read:
- Both meters registered high consumption, above the 98 to 102 percent required by established standards.
- Both meters, when cracked open, had sizable mineral deposits in their screens.
- When tested after the screen was cleaned, the meters were accurate to the required standards.
When minerals build up in the meter, it acts similar to putting a finger over a garden hose -- the water comes out faster, but the amount of water is actually less.
"Though the amount of water did not change, the velocity did, which in turn made the turbine spin faster showing increased usage," it read.
The letter also suggested meter cleaning programs or different metering options -- offering to supply meters with fewer moving parts at a discounted rate.
On Jan. 20, the city responded with a letter informing both HD Supply and Sensus that the city would be making a warranty claim. It read:
- The city tested 26 meters and 25 did not meet accuracy standards.
- The city "(I)s not persuaded" that the accuracy of the meters is impacted by high levels of iron or manganese, and that the accuracy of the city's meters has not been impacted by minerals in the past.
- The city was not told that the accuracy of the meters could be compromised by quality or mineral content of the water.
The city requested "(A) verifiable explanation" for the problems and noted the growing public outcry for immediate action. The city expressed the need to work out a solution for replacement or repair within the parameters of the warranty.
On March 15, the city sent a letter to Sensus and HD Supply responding to news that tests done by Sensus North American Water that indicated mineral deposits were still the root cause, and that Sensus would not replace the meters under warranty. It read:
- That the city's warranty covers various parts of the device, and "most importantly" the Sensus warranty guarantees accuracy of their meters fro an extended period of time without any limitation that is applicable in the city's situation.
- The city requested "immediate" clarification from Sensus with regard to the scope of the guarantee and why "22 tested meters that failed to meet the (accuracy) standards are not covered by the Sensus Guarantee.
As for the minerals, the letter goes on to say that both HD Supply and Sensus had "an obligation" to determine compatibility of the city's water system with its meters.
The letter also says that if a solution isn't found under warranty, the city would have to seek reimbursement themselves, a hint towards legal action.
On March 30, a letter from HD Supply responds by saying that the mineral deposits are still the primary issue, and that the city shares responsibility in failing to inform HD Supply and Sensus of the water mineral issue. It reads:
- Industry standards recognize debris as a problem, pointing out that foreign material -- like minerals -- can impact accuracy, and that care should be taken to prevent materials, especially sand, from reaching the meters.
- Meter cleaning led to improved accuracy, which supports the case for minerals being the problem.
- It also read that the city was well aware of issues with water and failed to bring it to HD Supply's attention, and despite the fact that HD Supply and Sensus pointed out water meter life depended on quality water, HD Supply learned of a previous meter cleaning program after installation of the system.
It also reads that Sensus "did not fail to satisfy the terms of the applicable warranty," and that the cause of failure is foreign material, not the meters.
Rita Simonetta, director of corporate marketing communications for Sensus, said in an e-mail Friday that she was unaware of the issue and could not comment.
Joseph Lindberg covers the city and county for the Daily News. He may be reached at 333-3135 or at Twitter.com @JosephLindberg