Manchester Town Meeting and Capital Projects


To the Editor,

A note about capital projects and water meters, specifically.   

First, I would like to thank everyone for a successful town meeting and their support on DPW Town Meeting articles and continued support for DPW projects.  As with most things at Town Meeting a lot of the work happens before the actual meeting and the major capital items on this year’s warrant and subsequent ballot vote are no exception. We (DPW personnel, other Town staff, Select Board, Finance Committee and others) spent innumerable hours doing the requisite research, study, planning, benchmarking, engineering and deliberation before this bond article (or any other capital request) made it to town meeting floor.  

Please check out the agenda center and town YouTube channel on the Town website to review some of the prior planning and debate.  I would like to also note that while DPW will shepherd and execute these projects (i.e., spend the money), these are all Town projects for the betterment and efficiency of the systems and benefit the taxpayers, rate payers and the environment of the Town.   

It is important to note that the water and sewer system are enterprise systems, ie financially self-sustaining.  The Town has made the commitment to own and operate these systems and we need to invest and reinvest in these systems accordingly; all revenue (rates and taxes) need to cover expenses. This is business 101 I think we can all agree on.

On the water side we have spent many hours, days, and weeks discussing the system at large and needed improvements.  There is a plethora of information both on the DPW webpage and now the water protection task force page. The short version is that the meters are 20+/- years old which is about the useful life (most of the pipes are over 100-years old which is also old).  

As was also mentioned prior and at Town Meeting, we are piloting the technology prior to buying it (more due diligence) and early reviews have been positive with some additional questions to be asked and answered during the request for proposal. It does seem the technology is worth investing in, too, but that is only part of what we are doing on behalf of the Town. 

With respect to water meters, the metrics are as follows: according to our 2023 Annual Statistical Report (ASR), we calculated 16.2% Unaccounted for Water (UAW).  The state standard is 10%. UAW is quite simply the amount of water pumped (metered at the plant and well) minus metered water (also known as revenue meters) and confidently estimated use.  

Several factors can contribute to UAW, such as small leaks, big leaks, construction, theft, and another big one: (in)accuracy of meters. In our case, we replaced the meters at the plant in the last two years (before that they were original to the plant); we calibrate the meter at the well annually (and will replace it when we implement improvements to treat PFAS); we do leak detection every other year (minimum, sometimes annually if we notice spikes in pumping); we estimate lost water for breaks; we estimate use for construction and firefighting; and I assume that most people are not knowingly stealing water from hydrants or otherwise.  This only leaves under-registering (revenue) meters as a (major) source of UAW.

While it would be nice to get to 0% UAW, this is not likely or probable either.  However, if you assume that 7% of our UAW is associated with the meters, thus getting us below the 10% threshold, and that our annual revenue is somewhere between $1.3M and $1.5M (depending on the year), then that 7% represents approximately $100,000 of (lost) revenue, conservatively.  Given a potential $1.5M price tag we are looking at a 15-year ROI.  We expect a 20-year life cycle for new meters.  

Of course, this is just some simple math using a snapshot of 2023 data.  You could also consider meters underreading getting worse over time, better or worse results in terms of UAW, or any other variables and tweak the numbers accordingly.  We should also consider that this project is supported by many other factors beyond revenue and ROI. 

Again, thank you for your support of these Town projects and if there are any other questions, please feel free to stop by or call the office. 

Charles Dam

Director, Manchester Dept. of Public Works