MADISON - The village of Spring Valley will replace its aging water meters next year with new cost-saving “smart” meters, according to Village Clerk Luann Emmerson.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved the $156,656 project Monday.

On average, the existing meters have been in service about 17 years and have problems with failing components that create repair issues for public works employees and inaccurate or missing data that complicates billing for the office staff, Emmerson said.

It currently takes an employee more than a week to manually read the 551 meters in the village but it will take only about an hour for the new meters, which send data every 14 seconds on a radio signal, which can be read by driving past them.

The labor savings should amount to “thousands of dollars” for each quarterly billing period, Emmerson said.

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The time savings should especially benefit the public works staff as it has decreased from three to two people recently, she said.

The new meters can also save customers money as the meters are equipped with alarms to detect leaks, continuously running water and low water temperature which can freeze up or burst meters during winter months.

“This is a huge step up for us,” Emmerson said.

The new meters are lead-free while the old meters contain more lead than allowed under newer Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The new meters can detect tampering efforts and lower usage levels providing a better picture of the utility’s distribution system.

The meter replacement project was scheduled for this fall but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed it back to next spring or summer, Emmerson said. The Michigan-based installation company hasn’t been able to enter enough residences to replace meters which greatly slows work scheduled ahead of Spring Valley’s, Emmerson said.

When the installation can begin, the company will make appointments with residents to enter their homes and change out the meters, she said.

The project will be financed by a 20-year state loan which currently has a 3.5% interest rate.

The PSC estimated that the village will need to raise water rates by 8.1% to fund the project. Emmerson said a rate application currently is being drafted that will be sized to recover the meter project, construction of a reservoir that was mandated by the Department of Natural Resources and looping some water main’s on the village’s north side.

Emmerson didn’t know how many additional revenue the utility would seek in the next rate application as bills from the reservoir construction haven’t been received. She did expect to file the rate application early next year.