Following an admission by San Diego city water officials Thursday that a water meter-reader employee, working alone, was responsible for hundreds of customers being overcharged, NBC 7 Responds is still questioning if the water department retrofitted old water meters at the start of the city-wide smart meter project.
The city has repeatedly denied this but has not clarified why purchase orders over the past five years show parts purchased for meter retrofits.
Retrofitting or turning an analog water meter into a digital, smart water meter has been identified as a reason some cities, like Atlanta, experienced billing inaccuracies during a transition to a new advanced metering infrastructure or AMI system.
“That's the lesson learned by other agencies and some of the nightmare experiences they've had,” Mike Vogl, Deputy Director for the Public Utilities Department told NBC 7 Responds last week, “We are not doing any retrofits.”
NBC 7 Responds found several purchase orders, a council committee presentation and a request for funding that discussed retrofitting residential, direct read meters during the AMI implementation. Dates on the documents range from 2012 to 2016.
On Thursday, Public Utilities Department Director Vic Bianes addressed NBC 7 Responds’ questions about retrofitting and said, “In the beginning, we may have retrofitted.”
“Based on our research with other agencies, that may have been the case,” Bianes said, “But to date, my understanding from staff is we are not putting in any retrofit AMI meters in the ground.”
On Friday, Vogl addressed NBC 7 Responds’ questions by saying the city only retrofitted commercial water meters, not residential.
“In the initial implementation, which was completed in 2016, some of our large commercial meters (3” and above) were retrofitted with AMI ready registers,” Vogl wrote in an email, “No smaller sized domestic meters were retrofit.”
Vogl added that during the planning phase of the AMI project, retrofitting smaller meters was considered but ultimately left on the table, based on problems experienced by other agencies.
NBC 7 Responds began investigating the city's implementation of smart water meters after dozens of homeowners across the city came forward, saying they believe they were charged for more water than they actually used.
Water department officials have said the new, smart water meters have nothing to do with the customer billing complaints.
As for the meter reading problems that were announced on Thursday, Bianes said the meters that were misread were not AMI-ready or smart meters, rather they were old, direct-read meters.