Utility Watchdog in San Diego

A Day in the Life of a Water Meter Reader

Janes-water-meterAt UCAN, we often get calls from frustrated water customers saying their water bill is too high and the numbers just cannot be right. After listening to several of these calls, I wanted to know more! My quest to understand how the city reads 280,000 meters every two months took me on a field trip to Ocean Beach in November, 2013. (Yes, that is a picture of my water meter.)

This adventure was not for the faint of heart. The meters were often hard to locate, very dark and sometimes contained spiders and other deterrents. The City meter readers were very accomodating and patient as I slowed them down covering their assigned area. Here are some notes from my adventure:

  1. Finding the actual meter can be hard because they are sometimes buried under plants and dirt.
  2. The readers use a handheld device for inputting the numbers read off the meter. All meters must be found or else the reader cannot go on to the next property.
  3. If the meter is covered or blocked there is a temporary code to put in but it can only be used three times.
  4. If the number the meter reader inputs for the read is out of a normal range, the handheld will not accept it. This can happen if the meter reader inputs the numbers wrong. The meter reader cannot insert random numbers.
  5. The fronts of the meters were scratched and cloudy yet they were able to read them and input the numbers correctly. I was amazed they could read the numbers correctly.
  6. Remember, these water meters are not smart meters like our electric meter. Every single-family customer meter must be read manually once every two months.
  7. The meter reader had no difficulty reading the correct numbers off the meter. I had to get on my hands and knees to read the meter (young eyes vs. older eyes).
  8. If the meter owner puts anything in the way of meter access, the reader will read the meter and put the obstacle back as they found it.
  9. Sometimes the meter, itself, will be under water due to sprinklers or rain that has not yet drained from the enclosure. Don’t worry - the readers have a device to view the meter through the water.
  10. The Water Department is responsible is maintaining the cover on your box. Contact them if the lid or box has become a hazard.

Here are the things I learned from my adventure:

  1. The job of the meter reader is tough. They have to move fast and cover a lot of ground on a given day. Getting to the meter to read it is no picnic! Getting to most meters is fine, but some?  Oh my…
  2. Don’t upgrade your meter unless you have to.  The old meters are not as accurate and that can work in your favor. The new meters are more accurate and read every drop of water heading your way.
  3. To increase the opportunity for an accurate read, keep the area around your meter clear of obstacles, brush, etc.
  4. If you check your own meter, be careful lifting the lid off the meter box. It is quite heavy.

Thanks to the City of San Diego Water Department for making it possible for UCAN to understand the job of the meter reader. We want to know what it takes to get an accurate reading for consumers.

Learn more about reading your water meter.


Jane Scanlon, January 2014

About UCAN

UCAN has represented the interests of San Diego County utility customers since 1983. UCAN focuses its efforts on the rates and services of San Diego Gas and Electric Company, telecommunications utilities and the City of San Diego Water Department.