Blog posts for the weekly #TopekaTweetALongs. Follow @cityoftopeka on Twitter if you want the live action coverage. for collection of tweets.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Charging dogs, wands all in a day's work for water meter readers

TL;DR: Water meter readers don't all use scooters. They know more about Topeka than Google. Don't pay any water meter readers on the street (anyone saying otherwise is scamming you). Call 785-368-3111 with any question about your water bills and meter.

NEW: I figured out how to use Storify. Here's a collection of all the tweets from this tweet-a-long, for easier reading.

For this week's Tweet-A-Long: A day in the life of a water meter reader. Everyone, meet Chris Holbert:


Let's get this out of the way first: No, Holbert doesn't use a scooter to help him get around to the water meters.

Apparently it's a thing. I've never heard of it. But Holbert clearly gets that question a lot, and I did, too, on Twitter Wednesday morning.

"Yes, OK, look," he said, sighing a little. "We can use them. But I can't keep my girlish figure by using them. Plus, I walk faster."

Here's what the scooters look like.

Holbert has made a name for himself as a speedy water meter reader in his two years with the department. He's been assigned some of the largest routes, both in area and in number of meters. Montara, for example, has about 980 meters. He knocks those out in four hours. And Oakland has about 843 meters.  That takes him five hours. Others in the department need about nine hours, he said.

Holbert walks the streets of Topeka every weekday, starting at 7 a.m. He said he even knows more about the streets than Google (Google: You've officially been called out.) It can become monotonous, so he tries to make it fun. If he's done a route before, he tries to beat his time. And he interacts with people, usually retired people gardening and children. He has two boys of his own.

Holbert has experienced some racism from residents and has been chased by more than a few dogs.
Comic brought to you by Capital-Journal reporter Tim Hrenchir. Holbert laughed out loud.

But, he said, "there's more good than bad."

"I love talking to people," Holbert said. "If people are outside, they talk to me. I really love this job. I'm a hands-on guy. Everything about this job is hands on. That's the best thing about it."

How it works: Holbert uses a Trimble to pick up radio signals from the registers that monitor how much water is used. It can pick up some remotely, like this one:
Trimble on the left. Meter "box" on the right. White circle sends a remote signal.
On others, Holbert has to find the meter box. Many are painted blue by the department, so they are easier to find. If you ever see that powder blue spray paint on a sidewalk or road, that's what it's for.

Once it's found, Holbert pushes the wand onto the nipple (yes, I promise that's what it's called) to pick up the signal:
Meet nipple (smaller circle in the upper left of the photo)
The nipple is connected to a register under the cap of the meter box. The register connects to the meter and operates like an odometer, tracking how much water the property used in a month. The Trimble collects all that data (it also shows the operator where the next customer is), which is then uploaded and fed into our billing system.

This is a register
Water meter readers read each meter every month. The only time Holbert can remember not reading meters is when there was too much snow on the streets for them to get around. In those instances, he said, the City estimates the usage based on what the meter shows from the same month of the prior year.

The water meter reading division handles everything in that "box," from shutting off and turning on water to repairing meters and verifying whether people are stealing water -- these will be on future #topekatweetalongs, for sure. Holbert went into detail on some of the creative ways people use to steal water from the City. It's impressive.