A Conversation with Pluris

February 8, 2017

 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Kuhns and Garth Armstrong regarding issues associated with our water provider, Pluris Southgate, Inc.  Joe is the Regional Manager and Garth is Project Manager for Pluris USA.  Both of these guys have been with Pluris for a number of years and were able to provide information of value to us as water users.

Selection of meters

The “smart” meter used here in N3 (and the rest of Southgate) is the Sensus iPERL.  While this particular meter is considered to be one of the best in the industry, it has not been without problems. The problem that has been most widely reported is that of leaking seals. Water intrusion into the electronics of the meter causes data corruption and wildly erroneous readings. Sensus has been responsive in addressing this issue and has taken steps to fix the problems as they became known (see Archer, FL).  The folks at Pluris were aware of the situation and took extra care to assure that the meters installed in our system had the problem corrected.

What is AMI?

Automated Meter Infrastructure is a system of (1) “smart” meters, (2) an AMI system server, and (3) data management.  Data (meter readings) is collected at the meter and is transmitted via an RF signal to a communication antennae.  The data is then transmitted to the utility (in our case Pluris) where it is used for, among other things, billing and feedback to us individually via the internet to a personal web portal.

ami

 

New Web Portal

The final phase of the Pluris AMI platform will be the new personal web portal that each customer can access on the Pluris website.  This new feature should be available to us in two to three months and will provide features that include:

  • timely leak alerts
  • monitoring personal water usage
  • setting personal use threshold alerts

(refer to the letter in your last month’s bill or scroll down to the Jan 24th post)

Problems in N3?

Tom Lyons recently reported on four “nightmare” water bills: one was in Charlotte County, one in Sarasota County, and two in the City of Sarasota.  None were in N3 or in Pluris Southgate service territory.  So, did Pluris do a great job of selecting and installing our “smart” meters… or have we just been lucky?  Or maybe some of both. A few readers have reported higher than usual water bills, but none experienced the huge spikes that are typical of malfunctioning electronic meters (there’s a reason your bill may be higher even though you’re using the same amount of water… more on that later).

The true long-term test of these meters is time. Will the redesigned seals still be good in 2 years? 3 years?  We’ll see. The longer they are in service without problems, the more confidence we’ll have. In the meantime it will behove us all to pay attention to our water usage and look for ways to conserve.  The new web portal will be a good tool and there’s lots of information from credible websites. I’ll post what I find on that and some ways we can monitor our individual in-home usage.

 

Sarasota N3 Sewers is now Sarasota N3 Neighborhood

January 29, 2017

More than just sewers

The Sarasota N3 Sewers website was launched in 2012 for a single purpose: to halt the installation of the 216 grinder pumps planned for the N3 area of the  PCSSRP.  That goal has been realized.  In a win-win for the county and N3 residents, a hybrid gravity system using four pumps (instead of 216!) is slated to begin construction in a couple of months.  So, the county sewer issue is settled, but there are changes with our water provider, Pluris Southgate, Inc.

Pluris Southgate, Inc

Pluris began changing out the old mechanical water meters in late 2015 and all of us now have the new “smart” meters (scroll down to the Jan 22 post for more info). The next change from Pluris will be the roll-out of the new Personal Web Portal.  This new feature promises to be a very useful tool for us, the customer, to monitor our individual water usage.  However, the national trend to convert to these electronic “smart” meters has not been without problems: The last article listed only a few of the many reports from around the country. Tom Lyons said he was “flooded” with similar calls.  A few neighbors have written to me that their bills are higher than they used to be (more on that later), but N3 has not experienced the nightmares reported in other neighborhoods that use the same meters. While the 200-plus residents of N3 make up less than five percent of the 4,599 Pluris Southgate customers, Pluris says that “the number of customers questioning accuracy of water use has dropped significantly.” I’m sure that statement is accurate, but it takes only one “black swan” to be a nightmare (see Tom Lyons columns Jan 22 post).

Why the name change?

It looks like this website will be useful for things other than our sewer. There have been articles about the Florida Neighborhoods Conference, Red Bug Slough clean-up, Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program, and other topics that don’t involve our sewers.  So,  Sarasota N3 Neighborhood will continue to present information that will hopefully inform our residents.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

“Smart” water meters: Other communities

January 26, 2017

follow-up to the follow-up

I had a telephone conversation Wednesay morning with Beverly Yopp, Director of Pluris Customer Care.  She actully had been helping our neighbor on Tanglewood Drive since November.  She wanted to assure all of us that Pluris will always go the “extra mile” in addressing customer concerns.  We also discussed the potential benefits of the new automated meter infrastructure (“AMI”) and the personal web portal feature that will be available soon.  If there is enough interest in the community Pluris may hold a meeting at the community center to help us set up our personal portals.  Beverly can be reached at byopp@plurisusa.com.

How extensive is the “overbilling” problem?

The last post concluded with the question of what can we do as individuals to verify the accuracy of our smart meter?  First we need to determine just how big the problem is.  If it’s a one-in-a-million “black swan” occurrence how concerned should we be?  How much time, effort, and money should we individually invest on something that may never happen to us?  Let’s take a look…

Other communities experiences

There are dozens of stories of problematic “smart” water meters going back to the mid-2000’s.  Click on the blue links to look at the most recent:

  • Atlanta, GA. –  2011 – “Her bill spiked to more than $1,200 in November, then skyrocketed to $6,879 in December. Her latest bill is down to just $34.” (sound familiar?)  There’s more here and here.

Okay, but that was six years ago. The problems are fixed by now, right?  Apparently not…

and let’s not leave out…

And many, many more…

I have listed just a few of the communities having the same problems. Please do a little “surfing” for yourself and you’ll see just how widespread the problems are.  Here are a few search terms I used for my source documents:

  • smart water meter problems
  • Sensus water meter malfunctions
  • Tinley Park water meter problems
  • Chicago Tribune water meter investigation
  • DeKalb county Georgia water meter problems

Followup on Tanglewood Dr Neighbor

January 24, 2017

The Jan 22nd post on problems with “smart” water meters included the case of a neighbor on Tanglewood Dr.  After a long history of $40 monthly water bills their December bill was over $500.  The neighbor had previously contacted Pluris and thought the huge spike in usage was being investigated, but on Friday Jan 20th they received a disconnect notice on their front door!  Well, Monday morning a Pluris representative called (yes, Pluris called them!) to discuss the issue. The good news is their water service will not be cut off and an accommodation was reached regarding payment of the bill.  Pluris also extended a “good will” reduction of the charges.  But the real question remains unanswered:  Did the resident use 66,978 gallons of water in a 32 day period?

Burden of Proof

66,978 gallons in 32 days is over two thousand gallons a day!  It is possible, but is it probable?  A leaking toilet will use around 200 gal/day, not 2000!  So how do you prove that you didn’t use the water?  That seems to be the age old conundrum of trying to prove a negative… you can’t.  As evidenced in Tom Lyons’ articles, this scenario is not unique to Pluris.  It appears that water providers, government or private, that have put “smart meters” into service have the same complaints.

So, what’s a person to do?

My bank and credit card sends me alerts if my accounts have transactions over a preset limit.  I can get an app for my phone that will alert me if my garage door is open.  Can’t we have something like that with our water? These meters are supposed to be smart, right? Well, this came in the mail today along with my Pluris bill:

pluris-mailer-12317

Pluris personal web portal

So, it looks like we’ll soon have the ability receive leak and usage alerts and daily monitoring of our individual water consumption.  But are these enhancements enough to protect us from a malfunctioning meter?  The meter send us a leak alert, but the plumber we called finds no leak.  Well, the meter says we used the water.  Can we prove that we didn’t?  Is there anything we can do to verify the accuracy of the meter ?

More on this soon…

 

 

Water Meter Problems?

January 22, 2017

New “Smart”  Water Meters

In 2015 our water provider, Pluris Southgate Inc, initiated a program to replace our existing water meters with new electronic “smart” meters.  I’m sure that by now all of us in N3 have the new meters. One of the benefits, Pluris tells us, is that the new meters “can wirelessly communicate accurate usage data continually, reducing the potential for meter misreading.”

Accurate water usage (and billing) is important to us in N3 for a couple of reasons: (1) we want the bill to be accurate so that we don’t pay for more water than we use, and (2) within a few months the Pluris water bill will be used to calculate our sewer charges.  Once we are hooked up our sewer billing will be $14.89 per month plus $7.54 per 1000 gallons of water used.  If you use 5000 gallons of water in a month your bill will be (approximately) $40 for the water and $53 for the sewer (there is an additional $19 monthly Sewer Surcharge that is not affected by water usage).

Columnist Tom Lyons recently wrote two articles concerning residents who had received huge water bills.  None of them live in our neighborhood and Pluris isn’t mentioned in the articles. However, it appears that all of the cases involved electronic “smart” meters (the articles are attached below as they appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune).

No problems with Pluris, right?

As I said, Tom Lyons’ articles didn’t mention Pluris, but a neighbor on Tanglewood Dr. received a December water bill for over $500.00!  This is a household of two adults, no pool or hot tub, and lawn irrigation is well water. For the past two years their bill has been around $40 a month… their January bill is $40.27.

Was this $503.86 December bill due to a malfunction in the electronic meter?  Is the meter the same type as in the other cases?  Same manufacturer?  Any other common factors?  A Pluris representative indicated that they would review the situation and try to find some answers, but the last communication from Pluris was on January 20th:  A door hangar notice that water service would be cut off if the bill wasn’t paid in 5 days.  The neighbor told me they will contact Pluris tomorrow morning… so stay tuned!

Newspaper Articles

lyons-nov-30-2016

lyons-dec-5-2016

 

November 2016 Update

December 20, 2016

Here is the latest update for CIP #55909 Area N3 sewers:

untitled

The PDF of this report can be found on the County website here. Notice that the “Project Description” states that our neighborhood will be served with two lift stations… there are actually four lift stations in the current design.

Additional Information

Go to the PCSSRP Monthly Status Report and scroll down to Area N3. Under “Next Major Milestones” we’re told that construction will likely begin in March 2017.  We know that the construction contract bids are currently being reviewed, so this is probably an accurate forecast.

New Residents

Quite a few new residents have moved into our neighborhood in the last couple of years.  If you have new neighbors near you, encourage them to visit this site and click on the “follow” link to get new information as it is posted (they can also email n3sewers@gmail.com and I’ll add them to the distribution list).

Red Bug Slough Air Potato Roundup

November 1, 2016

Saturday Nov 5th

Plan to come out this Saturday and join the roundup… the last event was in February (scroll down and read the Feb 28 post) and was loads of fun!

 

red-bug-slough

Registration Information

Here’s the link to the registration page or contact Darcy Young (Public Outreach Manager for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program)  (941) 955-8085 | sarasotabay.org

Follow-up on Tanglewood Dr traffic calming

October 22, 2016

positive reaction from residents

Several of our neighbors have responded with emails to this site and to the County Commissioners.  The comments have been that we need speed controls not only on Tanglewood Dr, but throughout the neighborhood.  This is a good time to raise this issue as constructing speed tables or other controls in conjunction with the proposed road work will certainly reduce cost.  This is a pertinent point, as the neighborhood will be responsible for the cost (more on this below).

comments from Commissioner Robinson

Yesterday’s article encouraged residents to contact commissioners and let them know your interest.  Apparently there have been more than a few emails because Commissioner Christine Robinson asked that I clarify some aspects of this issue:

  • More emails to commissioners won’t make things happen more quickly. Unlike our sewer initiative there is a process in place for this type of project.
  • Speed tables or other traffic calming measures are processed via the Public Improvement District Program. Under this program, at least 67% of property owners within the neighborhood must sign a petition in favor of establishing a district for the construction of traffic calming devices.
  • Property owners are responsible for project costs via annual assessments.
  • Public Works Director Isaac Brownman will be available to provide guidance should we elect to proceed with this project.

next step

It looks like the next step will be for someone to step up and start a petition.  I’m certain that the commissioners enjoy hearing from us, but working thru the process will be more productive than piling on more emails.  If someone will contact Mr.Brownman (ibrownman@scgov.net) and get the process started I’ll be happy to post your findings here.

Does Tanglewood Dr. need traffic calming?

October 21, 2016

Tanglewood Dr (south of Webber) has always had bicyclists, joggers, dog walkers, pedestrians, and children.  Recently we’ve had more young families either with children or planning to have children move into our neighborhood.  This all speaks well for the future of our community.

Several years ago the speed limit on our street was 20 MPH., but at some point the speed limit was increased to 25 MPH to conform with other residential streets.  Problem is the roadway has such limited sight distance it is virtually impossible to safely drive from Webber St. to Tuttle Ave (or vice versa) at the 25 MPH posted speed limit.  You can see that our street is a direct cut-thru to avoid the Tuttle/Webber intersection.  With no sidewalks or bike lanes we have been lucky not to have had an accident.

 

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Within the next 3-4 months we should see construction begin on our sewer system (yea!).  The construction will necessitate extensive cutting and patching of the existing roadway.  We have been assured that at project completion the entire roadway will be resurfaced, so we’ll have brand new pavement throughout our neighborhood.

So here’s the question: What better time to design in some passive speed controls for Tanglewood Dr.?  There are a lot of techniques available: Speed bumps/humps/tables/cushions.  Do a Google Image search for “Traffic Calming” and see what’s available.

speed-cushion

(Here’s a link to a successful installation of speed cushions)

Take a look and see what you think.  If anyone wants to start a campaign to slow the traffic on our street, the time is now.  You can contact county planners and/or email the Sarasota County Commissioners.  If you have ideas you want to share, send them to n3sewers@gmail.com and I’ll publish them here.

N3 Neighborhood to present at annual Florida Neighborhoods Conference

October 12, 2016

Sarasota County is hosting the 2016 Florida Neighborhoods Conference and our friends Jane Grogg and Miranda Lansdale at the Sarasota County Neighborhood Services  have scheduled a presentation featuring our N3 Neighborhood sewer project.  Our success with county commissioners and staff was such that they want us to share our “win-win” strategy with other communities around the state.  The conference will be held at the Venice community Center and the presentations begin at 10:00 a.m. Friday Oct 14th (click on “conference information” on the conference website).

The N3 presentation is titled “Your Attention, Please!” (Session VI-No. 22) and is scheduled for Saturday Oct 15th at 11:00 a.m.  Our session will be moderated by Newton Conservation Historic District Project director Vickie Oldham.

Take a look at the conference schedule and see what looks interesting. Registration is preferred, but walk-ins will be welcomed based on available seating.