WaterOne board candidates on the issues: Rolling out advanced metering infrastructure

File photo.

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for the WaterOne Board of Directors address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a three-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues facing our community.

We are publishing the candidates’ responses to a question per day. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following:

WaterOne is in the process of installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure across the district. This system has the potential to allow customers to better understand their water consumption and avoid surprise high bills by accessing data about their usage online. What does the district need to do to ensure customers are aware of the new system and get the most out of it?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Member 3 Seat

Kay Heley (incumbent)

I voted for the Advanced Metering Infrastructure project during my first few months on the Board and look forward to its launch.  I have been impressed with WaterOne staff efforts to install the black remote-read sensors on water meters, including working with customers with indoor meters during a pandemic.  Staff have also worked hard to avoid job loss by training employees for new positions. While I do not know details of the customer communications for AMI, I am hopeful that the information will be shared in multiple languages as we have many constituents for whom English is not their primary language.  As a member of the Board’s Government and Community Relations Committee, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with various community groups to explain AMI basics and answer questions.  Using Heart-to-Heart International’s approach to Covid 19 vaccines, I believe taking the information to faith communities and other trusted groups would be valuable.  I support WaterOne inviting trusted leaders from diverse community, immigrant and faith groups for a tour of WaterOne, a discussion about AMI as well as ozone and the advantages of tap versus bottled water.

My husband and I have been guinea pigs for the online program and find it easy to use.  I explain to interested constituents that AMI’s ability to provide daily water use data will help with water conservation. We also will not have to wait until our bill arrives every 2 months to find out that we have a slow, leaky toilet.  As a retired nurse educator, I am encouraging parents to use AMI data to plan science experiments with their children who take long showers. One week they take their regular showers and look at the daily data.  The next week, they limit their showers to 5 or 10 min. and compare the water use data. People can compare water use differences with dishwasher use or handwashing dishes. Comparisons can be made with bath versus shower water use, turning off the water while brushing teeth or not and before/after purchasing a more water-efficient appliance.  AMI will allow us to have daily data about how we use our water.  For those of us who want to conserve water, the data will be useful.  While we are fortunate to have two rivers providing water, water is a precious and finite resource that we must conserve and not take for granted. I ask for your vote.

Steve Gordon

WaterOne is very proactive when it comes to communicating with its customers.  Whether it’s making information available through the WaterOne website or sending information through the mail, or notifying customers when there is a break or need to boil water, they have a record of early and regular communication.  This Advanced Metering Infrastructure will give patrons more access to the information they need to use water responsibly.  This also has the potential to better focus calls for service when needed.  Any reduction of wasted motion as the result of an informed patronage will translate to better cost efficiency.  That turns into cost savings and better management of the resources we have.  In a day when climate change and the stewardship of our environmental resources is on an increase, it’s important that WaterOne use all the media resources available to educate its customers on the use of this new technology.

Joann Atchity

Since my primary issue is that of informed consent, knowing how much water is being used as a customer moves through the billing cycle could be very helpful.

Monitoring helps both customers and landlords to be aware of leaks or other problems so that repairs can be made as soon as possible.

An info sheet on how to access the monitoring system could be added to the water bill. In addition, information about the dangers of fluoride could also be added to the bill so that customers can make an informed choice about whether to ingest water containing fluoride.

For more information about fluoride, visit fluoridealert.org

Member 4 Seat

Jeffrey Mendoza

I believe that transparency between elected leaders and the public is paramount to success. Advanced Metering will allow us to further expand that transparency with our WaterOne board. This technology will allow consumers to identify discrepancies in their water consumption quickly and easily. In theory, long are the days where a leaky pipe will go unnoticed until the following high water bill. By incorporating this new process, the onus is on WaterOne to inform the public of its existence and benefits.
Our WaterOne Board is responsible for establishing policy for the utility. The board can have a direct impact on how new technologies are implemented within the water utility company and how that messaging is spread throughout the water district. WaterOne must ensure consumers are aware of this new system and all substantial changes within the utility company. To ensure the message is spread I will encourage spreading the news on WaterOne’s website, on social media pages, by making calls to consumers, and sending mailers included with the water bill. I have reached out to WaterOne leadership and the interactive system for the Advanced Metering is called “my account” and was rolled out last week. The messaging regarding this implementation has been spread through social media sources and will also arrive in consumer homes via a postcard.
The value in this new system will be conservation. The new system also has the collateral benefit of reducing WaterOne’s carbon footprint. Respecting and conserving our environment and natural resources is important to me and I will make it a focus of our WaterOne board when I’m elected. Consumers can now identify their exact daily water use, which could potentially affect how water is utilized in the home. Additionally, this may serve as a bargaining tool when addressing wastewater bills (entities that are separate from WaterOne but use clean water consumption as a baseline for their billing). As a candidate for the WaterOne board, I also seek to keep consumers informed. Visit my website: JeffreyforWaterOne.com and Facebook page: facebook.com/JeffreyforWaterOne to learn more.

Bob Reese (incumbent)

Did not respond

Member 5 Seat

Jill Westra

This topic is very important as it brings up easy-to-miss elements of environmental justice, a subject I am very familiar with and passionate about. The bottom line is that not everyone in our water district has equal access to the same media, the same technology, or speaks the same language. When we talk about kicking off awareness campaigns or getting the word out that any substantial change is coming down the pike, this subject is critical to insert into the strategy discussion. My hope would be that a robust multi-media communications campaign would be put in place to inform our community of the upcoming improvements and how it could impact them. The importance of multi-media is key, to ensure that those without access to digital platforms are considered, while simultaneously, those who may be unable to avail of information on printed material due to disability or language barriers, are also considered. To this end, it would be important for WaterOne to work with PR and Communications experts (both internal and external) to ensure that all stakeholders have equal access to, and equal opportunity to understand the pertinent information that will educate and inform them. This might look like a variety of pictorial, verbal, audio approaches to delivering the message to all levels of understanding across all demographics. Engaging the community through as many creative channels as possible, including (but not limited to) social media, radio, television, internet, print and other cross-platform marketing campaign tactics; while providing an open channel of communication between WaterOne and stakeholders who may have questions or input, will be critical.

Paying close attention to timing and building in ample advance notice as part of the project management, will also be key to successful implementation. Ensuring ample time to fully roll out a communications campaign prior to launching the new metering infrastructure is important, as a pitfall could be that residents in our district only learn about the new system’s features and potential impacts on their households, after the fact. This could result in stakeholders missing out on every opportunity to capitalize on the benefits that are available with the new system in place. I would champion an initiative to ensure that the Administrative committee and Government and Community Relations committee of the Board is working very closely with WaterOne leaders to provide ample oversight and guidance in this endeavor.

Missey Smith

Did not respond

On Wedneday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question 2:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. How will the increasing likelihood of flooding and drought events impact the sources from which WaterOne draws its supplies? What can WaterOne do to ensure its infrastructure is ready to handle more extreme weather?