Faribault not alone in water meter issues - Faribault MN: News

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Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012 1:46 pm | Updated: 4:12 pm, Sat May 12, 2012.

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.

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  • secretsquirrel posted at 10:11 pm on Thu, May 17, 2012.

    secretsquirrel Posts: 278

    Snowplow man - That was the whole point: I don't buy water meters at all and have never heard of this either but a little research by a rank amateur dug up several instances where Sensus dropped the ball and some cities are going through what we are now. Does that make me an authority on water meters? Not by a long shot. But it makes me skeptical and prudent consumer.
    My larger point is that maybe multi-million dollar purchases have become too routine and the city lacks protocol for such activities. I find it difficult to believe that some level of research would not be required prior to making such an expenditure. If there isn't, this situation highlights a huge hole in purchasing practices.

    The days of Friendly Joe the cleaning supply salesman are nearing an end. Used to be that if the guy you've been dealing with for years said a product was good, it was. Any problems and he'd be right over to get it squared away.
    It's patently obvious that Sensus knew of these problems long before you or whoever ordered these meters made a formal purchase.
    The city should be reviewing policies and procedures at all levels annually.
    If you've been ordering meters for 25 years, how many have you ordered at a time? Nowhere near this amount I would guess. I think that Sensus likely took more orders than they had capacity to produce efficiently and just skipped a lot their own QA protocol to get that product out the door and the cash in the bank ASAP.
    So, short answer: Trust but verify.

  • Snowplow man posted at 8:46 pm on Thu, May 17, 2012.

    Snowplow man Posts: 11

    I have bought water meters for nearly 25 years and have NEVER heard anything bad about Sensus meters, so it seems strange that secretsquirrel can dig up a internet blip and start pointing fingers.

  • secretsquirrel posted at 9:11 am on Wed, May 16, 2012.

    secretsquirrel Posts: 278

    March 30, 2007 BPW Minutes - Norfolk, MA council minutes:
    "The original vote was to award the bid to Putnam Pipe to supply Sensus meters; it has recently come to the Board’s attention, however, that Sensus meters are having a failure rate of 1 in 5 failing, which is unacceptable to the Town."

    March 14, 2009
    "Bad water meters cost city cash
    Thousands must be replaced.
    More than one out of each five of the 15,800 new water meters installed two years ago in Muskogee is defective, said City Manager Greg Buckley."

    July 18, 2011John Pape · Comments Off
    Local News
    "Katy City Council has authorized the use $260,000 in reserve funds to replace defective water meter remote read modules in the city’s water metering system.
    Council authorized the expenditure at the recommendation of Public Works Director Elaine Lutringer after an increasing number of the modules failed.
    The modules, which allow the meters to be read remotely, were originally installed in 2004.
    In recommending the replacement, Lutringer described the failure rate as “alarming.”

    Speaking of Sensus integirty:

    April 14, 2005 White Bear Township minutes
    These minutes not only identify a nearby township that had installed Sensus remote read meters but the names of several surrounding communities (He reported that they have installed meters in several surrounding communities, and recently in Blaine and Chanhassen) that could easily be contacted for their experience with Sensus and Sensus products. It relays the sales pitch given by the Sensus sales rep.

    Honolulu HI forum reports 50% failure rate for Neptune meters and 70% failure rate for Sensus meters....

    Ten minutes of research. Is that too much to ask?

  • secretsquirrel posted at 8:00 am on Wed, May 16, 2012.

    secretsquirrel Posts: 278

    Ultimately the council is responsible for pulling the trigger on the project. So, to that extent, I see geemar's point. However, the council relies on the information received by the department heads and the lead people on any given project.
    If I were a council member, I would immediately stroll into the office of the person(s) responsible for doing the research and insist on seeing what correspondence and research that person did prior to making the recommendation.
    If, as it appears to most readers, these problems could have so easily discovered through a little internet research, I'd light the rug on fire. I've done more research on $20,000 projects than appears to have been done on this multi-million dollar investment made by the city.
    Sure, anyone can make a mistake. But, when the 'mistake' is not doing your homework or relying on the word of a salesman instead of verifying claims, it must be re-defined as sloth or ineptitude. Pennies count... dollars kill. The council does not get a pas just because their subordinates may have dropped the ball. Generals get sacked if their troops don't deliver and the general lacks the strength to address those failures, same applies here.

  • Snowplow man posted at 6:17 am on Wed, May 16, 2012.

    Snowplow man Posts: 11

    Geemar it is easy to point fingers after the fact. There are two meters that dominate the market Sensus and Neptune, both have been extremely accurate for several decades, so to blame the council for not doing their homework, is not the answer.

  • DavidGross posted at 12:01 pm on Sun, May 13, 2012.

    DavidGross Posts: 256

    This seems "odd" to me. Sensus makes water meters for all types of water, it seems, including those with "fewer moving parts" for, apparently, water like Faribault's water, whatever that means. However, unless Sensus put express limitations, or parameters, on the kind/qualities of the water that the supplied meters needed to operate properly, there is no way of knowing, for the consumer (Faribault), which meter type to choose for its water. And, if HD Supply was offering expert/professional advice as to which meter to use, it's responsibility also includes the duty to obtain knowledge of the water's qualities and characteristics in order to advise a correct choice of meter from Sensus, or somebody else. And that assumes that Sensus informed its distributors concerning the water "needs," or limitations, of each type of meter it supplies for use. So, it all gets down to who knew what and when they knew it concerning the water-and-the-meter combination.
    It also seems "odd" that, in such a fundamental and basic measuring device, that the KISS principle wasn't applied concerning the complication of the metering system, the number of moving parts: "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Usually, "simple elegance" is more durable/reliable than a "complicated sophistication." Based on the statements that the "velocity" of the water through the meter made the turbine spin faster, it sounds as if this particular meter uses a Venturi type, indirect method of measurement, as opposed to a direct method of the flowing water turning a turbine. But a Venturi system uses the difference in pressure of the flow through the Venturi (or "nozzle") and is based on certain assumptions concerning the medium being measured. And, yet, because water is an incompressible fluid, unlike a gaseous fluid, the fact that the screen filter is somewhat clogged shouldn't matter, because the back pressure of the faucets, for example, restrict the velocity of the total flow to that which the screen allows through it; unless the design of the meter places the screen in precisely the wrong place so that it can compromise accuracy. After all, the screen is there for a purpose and the engineering/design assumption is that it IS, in fact, going to trap particulates and become clogged with, to catch, exactly what it is designed to catch. Screens and filters are placed in such things to enable, not to prevent, the proper operation of the device. And if there are parameters concerning its use, including maintenance of such screens and filters, then the customer needs to be told of them so that they are able to make proper use of them, or to choose something else less finicky for its purposes. It makes no sense to say that they've built in a screen to catch stuff, but that if it catches stuff as it is supposed to, as we designed it but didn't tell you, then all bets are off. That's "Heads, I win; Tails, you lose:" Catch-22. That's not a warranty; or a good, rational design intended to provide the service for which it is sold to begin with. Defective? Lame excuses?
    "Minerals" is an interesting term. Lots of things are "minerals," but the term normally, concerning water, refers to "dissolved minerals, or Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) which can precipitate out of solution," so-called "hard" water which causes scale to accumulate, and not to debris such as undissolved sand (Quartz?) which the screen is designed to catch in order to protect the mechanism from material that the screen is designed not to allow through. Of course, everything that the screen allows through, is engineered and designed to be, literally "allowable" and permissible to the mechanism.
    So it all seems to be coming down to the saying which my father, a very decent man and a respected businessman for almost 50 years, said: "When you're doing business with an honest person, you don't need a contract. When you're doing business with a thief, no contract will help you." Yes, Virginia, warranties are a contract; sometimes express, sometimes implied by the circumstances or by law, like the Uniform Commercial Code.
    Do Sensus and HD Supply "stand behind" these meters in the sense that a car dealer does, rather than in front where they can get hurt, as Faribault drives away, or do they stand behind them in the sense that they provided a meter unfit by design or manufacture for the purpose and circumstances intended? Did Faribault make a knowing and intelligent choice, albeit the wrong one under known circumstances; or did Sensus and HD Supply hide the ball? Sounds like the latter, to me, so far.
    Obviously, there is more to be revealed, later.

  • Jv41729632 posted at 7:22 am on Sun, May 13, 2012.

    Jv41729632 Posts: 3

    @geemar, if you read the article and pay attention to the dates listed you would realize most of these problems were reported the same year or after the meters in Faribault were installed, meaning they probably didn't see any red flags other than the one ten years prior.

  • geemar posted at 6:31 am on Sun, May 13, 2012.

    geemar Posts: 56

    The city council should have done their homework on this company before shelling out 1.8 million for how many???? 7,400 meters?? Are you kidding?? Maybe they need to pay the news reporters for fact finding before they launch such rediculous payouts. I am thinking the reporters would be cheaper to hire than the companies that charge alot of money to come up with nothing more than what people want to hear. They would un-biased, and get the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. Awesome article!


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