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Water Wisdom: A higher standard

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By David Tucker EBS CONTRIBUTOR

Technology is ubiquitous in our 21st-century lives. It permeates our socializing, our shopping, our banking and even our driving. Why not use it to maximize our water conservation?

That’s exactly what the Big Sky Water and Sewer District is doing with the implementation of automated metering infrastructure, a system that could have profound effects on local water conservation.

The upgraded meters provide the district with up-to-the-minute readings of water usage among their constituents, which is about 60 percent of Big Sky residents. Now, if there is a dramatic spike in usage, they’ll know immediately, which could save countless gallons of water, a limited resource in these parts. Recently, a hotel in Big Sky had a leak, but instead of untold gallons wasting away, the meter picked up the spike and district technicians were able to inform the property managers, saving a lot of water and a lot of money.

“These meters take the guesswork out of monitoring,” said Jake Porter, a water technician with BSWSD. “It gets the right reads to the right people at the right time.” According to Porter, this will lead to better efficiency and lower costs. The new meters take 720 reads a month, instead of one read every three months.

While cost savings to the customer is reason enough to adopt this new system, water savings to the watershed is perhaps even more important.

“Big Sky is a closed basin,” said Emily O’Connor, water conservation program manager at the Gallatin River Task Force. “There are no new surface or connected groundwater rights available. That means all our future water needs must be met with water rights that have already been claimed. Water conservation is one of the top tools Big Sky can utilize in order to ensure that current and future water needs will be met.”

Fewer, smaller leaks mean more water for the Gallatin. More water for the Gallatin means a healthier system, with abundant cold, clear water. Abundant cold, clear water means a healthy fishery and raucous whitewater. Healthy fish mean happy fishermen, and raucous whitewater means thrilled floaters. These meters are one tool in the water-conservation toolbox, and a positive sign that the district is taking proactive steps toward sustainable management.

At this point, 2,400 of the district’s 2,800 accounts have the new meters installed, with plans for 100 percent coverage in the coming years. Installation is simple and unobtrusive, and the district intends to roll out a mobile tracking app for customers. The City of Bozeman has a similar platform, and plans to have all meters updated shortly.

“We have an aggressive meter replacement program and are currently on track to have all meters upgraded in the next four years,” said Jessica Ahlstrom, water conservation specialist with the City of Bozeman. “We also launched a customer water-use portal, Dropcountr, which allows customers to track their water use and see how their use compares to neighbors and efficiency goals set by the city.”

While BSWSD’s progress is impressive, 40 percent of Big Sky’s water users are not connected to the district system. We encourage those homeowners and businesses to install upgraded meters, as well.

As Big Sky continues to develop, we’ll need to implement a variety of water-saving measures to ensure that growth is sustainable. More efficient meters are a solid step forward, a good sign that thoughtful leaders are at the helm, solving problems before they become insurmountable.

David Tucker is the communications manager for the Gallatin River Task Force.

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