SHARON WATER MANAGEMENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE (WMAC) MEETING MINUTES FOR MAY 20, 2004
Prepared by Paul Lauenstein
Present at meeting:
WMAC Chairman Rory McGregor; WMAC members Michael Birschbach, Richard Mandell, Jack Sulik, Len Sekuler, Lealdon Langley and Paul Lauenstein; DPW Superintendent Eric Hooper; Water Supervisor Dave Masciarelli; Selectman David Grasfield; Conservation Agent Greg Meister; Lake Management Committee Chairman Cliff Towner; Finance Committee member Charles Goodman; and citizens Alice Cheyer, Michael Jones, and Michael Sherman
Summary of Minutes for the 5/20/04 WMAC Meeting
Update by the Radio Read Meter System Subcommittee
Discussion of the RFP process and the relative costs and benefits of drive-by versus fixed network radio read meter systems continued from the May 6 meeting. The issue is scheduled for a vote at the June 10 meeting.
Review and approval of minutes of the May 6, 2004 meeting.
The minutes of the May 6 meeting were approved with alterations.
Discussion of Metcalf & Eddy report
Discussion of the Metcalf & Eddy report was concluded by passing the following motion:
MOTION: Move to accept the Metcalf & Eddy report, pay the final invoice for work performed, but not to accept the conclusions and recommendations at this time.
4. Other business
Questions about Annual Statistical Report
Discussion of water discoloration
Status of new well site testing
DEP recognition of Sharon’s water quality
5. Schedule the next meeting for Thursday, June 10 at 7:30 PM
Detailed Minutes for the 5/20/04 WMAC Meeting
1. Update by the Radio Read Meter System Subcommittee
Chairman of the radio read meter system subcommittee Len Sekuler reported on the subcommittee meeting that occurred just prior to the regular WMAC meeting. He said the subcommittee opened the price quotes of the three drive-by system finalists. Price quotes for three fixed network systems obtained from Walpole were also reviewed. Len Sekuler said the subcommittee attempted to separate radio costs from meter costs, and then compare the radio cost of a drive-by system with the radio cost of a fixed network system. He reported that the lowest quote for a drive-by system, which includes 2,533 new 5/8” meters and 633 new 3/4” meters, was $(protected information pending completion of bidding process), and the lowest quote obtained by Walpole for a fixed network system (pro-rated for Sharon to include 5,600 new 5/8” meters) was $882,996.
Paul Lauenstein pointed out that comparing the $(protected information pending completion of bidding process) drive-by figure with the $882,996 fixed network figure is inappropriate. The ongoing labor costs of reading the meters following installation is omitted and would be greater for a drive-by system. Also, the number of meters included in the two quotes is not equal. He suggested that a careful line item by line item comparison should be done before drawing conclusions. He also said it would cost much more to buy a drive-by system and upgrade it later to a fixed network system than to buy a system specifically designed as a fixed network system. He explained that in order to upgrade a drive-by system to a fixed network system, dozens of expensive Data Collection Units (DCUs) would be needed to collect the short range drive-by signals and relay them to the Water Department. He said it would be less expensive to skip the drive-by stage and purchase instead a fixed network system equipped with long-range transmitters, thus avoiding the costs and maintenance associated with DCUs.
Eric Hooper commented that at the beginning of the process of evaluating a radio meter system he assumed a fixed network system would be the ultimate goal, but now he thinks a drive-by system would be sufficient for Sharon.
Len Sekuler asked why Sharon would need hourly meter reads if billing will be done quarterly. He said that one benefit of frequent meter reading is leak detection, which is an important aspect of a water conservation program. He then explained that one of the drive-by vendors offers optional e-coder registers capable of monitoring presence or absence of flow every 15 minutes during the 30 days between meter reads. If there is a leak, there will never be a 15 minute period with zero flow, and software will flag that account as probably having a leak. This information can then be reported on the water bill. Another benefit of frequent meter readings is to identify high volume water users and show their usage patterns. He said high users can be readily identified with the current manual meter reading system, and their usage can be evaluated with a water audit. A third benefit of frequent meter reading is to catch people using water illegally. He said that even with frequent meter readings it would still be necessary to drive to the location to verify the illegal use, and that neighbors already report illegal users without the town purchasing a sophisticated meter reading system. He said he would prefer to see the additional $(protected information pending completion of bidding process) for a fixed network system be spent on other water conservation initiatives.
Paul Lauenstein pointed out that the optional e-coders needed to do leak detection by a drive-by system would cost an additional $(protected information pending completion of bidding process), which would reduce the cost difference to $(protected information pending completion of bidding process). He repeated that the $(protected information pending completion of bidding process) figure was not an apples-to-apples comparison.
Michael Birschbach said he would like to see a rough estimate of the labor cost to read meters with a drive-by system. Eric Hooper said that would require someone with financial expertise.
David Grasfield said he was confident that, if asked, someone on the Finance Committee would be happy to assist with this calculation.
Len Sekuler questioned who would analyze the large volumes of data obtained using a fixed network system. He said it would be impractical for the Water Department to systematically scan daily meter readings, and that monitoring the water use of rate payers is beyond the scope of the Water Department’s responsibilities.
Lealdon Langley responded that reducing water use should be a goal of the Water Department since obtaining supplementary water is so costly. He also said the Water Department should assist water users in conserving water by providing them with a tool to monitor and manage their own water use.
Richard Mandell added that the Automated Meter Read (AMR) software would flag accounts with a high likelihood of leaks, meter tampering, etc. so that most of the data would not need to be reviewed manually.
Lealdon Langley said if the town obtains a fixed network system that hourly meter reads would not be needed and that daily meter reads would be sufficient.
Rory McGregor asked Eric Hooper and Dave Masciarelli of the Water Department if they felt that a fixed network system was needed. They replied that they thought a drive-by system would be adequate. Eric Hooper said that reading meters while doing other routine duties such as station checks and tank inspections would reduce the time required to read all the meters. Dave Masciarelli estimated that combining meter reading with other errands would cut meter reading time in half. He added that the Water Department favored an aggressive one-year installation schedule, but the Finance Committee preferred a more gradual approach spread over several years.
David Grasfield said the cost justification provided to the Finance Committee and the Selectmen by the Water Department was not sufficient basis for approving more than $150,000 for a pilot installation.
Eric Hooper said the ability to adjust water rates seasonally would be facilitated by radio meter reading, but added that Town Hall might object to the extra work involved in monthly billing. He said that quarterly billing would satisfy the DEP.
Lealdon Langley commented on the value of accelerated cash flow that will occur if bills are sent out more frequently. Eric Hooper added that AMR will also make cash flow more uniform and predictable.
Jack Sulik said the cost of preparing and mailing the water bills would outweigh the benefit of improved cash flow.
Paul Lauenstein said he believes the value of a fixed network system lies in its ability to take meter readings more frequently than a drive-by system. He said this would help Sharon conserve water by identifying leaks, monitoring total unaccounted-for water, and raising awareness among water users by graphing their daily water use on their water bills. He said he thought the current RFP process should be scrapped because it does not allow consideration of fixed network systems.
Jack Sulik stated that additional data obtained with a fixed network system would only have value if it were acted upon, and challenged Paul Lauenstein to explain how the data would be used. He said in most cases people detect leaks without the benefit of daily meter reading.
Paul Lauenstein responded by recounting two examples from other towns of how daily meter reading can be useful. In the first example, an elderly person moved to a nursing home and left the house unoccupied. In winter the water meter froze and cracked. By the time the leak was discovered in spring the basement was filled with water and the house was filled with mold. The house was a total loss. The tamper detection feature of a fixed network system would have alerted the water department immediately, and the house might have been saved. In the second example, 100 homes were equipped with fixed network radio meters as a pilot installation. Every month the homes with leaks were notified on their water bills. The first month there were 27 homes with leaks. After three months the number had shrunk 60% to just 11 homes with leaks.
Rory McGregor asked if the subcommittee had voted on making a recommendation to the full WMAC. Len Sekuler replied that the subcommittee only opened the bids and discussed them, and had not voted. Dave Masciarelli said another meeting of the subcommittee is needed. He commented that fixed network systems have not been on the market long enough to know if they are reliable, and that drive-by systems have a good track record.
Rory McGregor said he expects the subcommittee to meet and prepare its recommendation in time for the next WMAC meeting. He cautioned that, although it will take the subcommittee’s recommendation under advisement, the WMAC will vote independently on what to recommend to the Selectmen.
Jack Sulik said time is important because the $150,000 approved for spending on a radio meter system in FY ’04 will expire on June 30, 2004. Eric Hooper pointed out if a decision is not made by June 30 the loss of the $150,000 approved for FY ’04 will delay the project by a year.
Len Sekuler raised the issue of the cost to analyze daily meter reads obtained with a fixed network system. Eric Hooper said he presumed AMR software associated with a fixed network system operates in a similar fashion to that of a drive-by system, and offers features designed to flag potential problems and assist with data analysis. Richard Mandell said he thought data analysis costs associated with a fixed network system would probably be similar to those of a drive-by system. Paul Lauenstein said a new bid process would allow in-depth comparison of the data analysis capabilities of fixed network systems relative to drive-by systems.
David Grasfield observed that the RFP process had precluded several proposals from consideration because they were fixed network systems and did not offer hand-held or drive-by meter reading capabilities. Eric Hooper responded that the fixed network proposals were evaluated, but they were eliminated based on their failure to meet the specifications in the RFP. He said even Walpole, which only solicited bids on fixed network systems, eliminated ArKion from consideration based on failure to meet the specifications. He added that Paul Lauenstein was the only member of the subcommittee who did not submit evaluation sheets on the proposals.
Lealdon Langley asked why the fixed network systems didn’t score well on Sharon’s evaluation forms. Eric Hooper replied that they lacked hand-held and drive-by meter reading devices as required by the RFP. He said providing a migration path to upgrade to a fixed network system was optional.
Lealdon Langley then asked why hand-held and drive-by meter reading devices are desirable. Eric Hooper replied that they provide redundancy in case of equipment failure.
Lealdon Langley then asked whether the present method of reading meters manually could not provide redundancy in case of equipment failure. Len Sekuler replied that difficulties arise if the house must be entered to read the meter. Also, the present manual system is too inefficient to read the whole town in a day for billing purposes.
David Grasfield commented that the cost justification provided by the Water Department to the Finance Committee and the Selectmen is not specific as to what kind of radio meter system would be selected. He said he was not aware when he signed off on the $14,000 invoice for preparation of the RFP by Weston & Sampson that fixed network systems would not be allowed.
Charles Goodman said the Finance Committee was not aware of the distinction between a drive-by system and a fixed network system during its deliberations on how much money to approve for a radio meter system.
Michael Birschbach asked if the cell tower warrant article passed at Town Meeting would affect the decision of what kind of radio meter system the town would purchase.
Eric Hooper said it would because according to the by-law cell phone antennas cannot be located within 500 feet of a residence. He said fixed network systems require relays involving antennas to transfer data to the Water Department.
Len Sekuler asked if that would categorically preclude consideration of fixed network systems. Eric Hooper said it would not. Len Sekuler said the specifics of the by-law should be reviewed to determine what constraints it would place on a fixed network system.
Rory McGregor closed discussion of the radio meter system, commenting that the subcommittee should be prepared with its recommendation on this significant issue in anticipation of a final vote at the June 10 WMAC meeting.
2. Review and approve the minutes of the May 6, 2004 Meeting
The minutes of the May 6 meeting were approved with alterations by Rory McGregor, Lealdon Langley and Richard Mandell.
3. Review of the Metcalf & Eddy report
Richard Mandell objected to the agenda entry, “Review/approve the Metcalf & Eddy report.” He said the entry should have read “Review/discuss the Metcalf & Eddy report” in view of the complexity of the issue, the amount of money involved, and the fact that in any event work on this proposed project would not begin for years.
Eric Hooper began the discussion by referring to the Horsley & Witten report. He said questions were raised about the accuracy of the Water Department’s hydraulic model of Sharon’s water supply system. Metcalf & Eddy was hired to recalibrate the model and review Horsley & Witten’s 2020 Maximum Daily Demand (MDD), Peak Hourly Demand (PHD), fire flow demand projections and water storage requirements. Metcalf & Eddy also evaluated alternative strategies to meeting these requirements.
Paul Lauenstein questioned the nature of the problem that the proposed HPSD and water tank project was aimed at solving. He recalled that public health and fire safety were originally cited as justifications for this project. He said the public health issue stemmed from complaints that second floor toilets could not be flushed at a few of the highest elevation homes when the Hampton Road tank emptied in summer. Since then tighter lawn watering restrictions have resulted in the Hampton Road tank staying full enough to eliminate this problem. In addition, most homes at high elevations have installed private booster pumps. As for fire safety, he passed out copies of Sharon’s 2000 Insurance Services Office (ISO) report that rated Sharon’s water supply system above average for fighting fires. He said if fire safety were inadequate, a comprehensive study should be conducted to identify the best strategies for enhancing fire readiness. For example, the Briggs Pond neighborhood does not have any fire hydrants, and rated very poorly on the ISO report. Spending $5.5 million on a HPSD and water tank for the purpose of fire fighting might not be the most cost-effective way to upgrade Sharon’s overall fire fighting capability.
Len Sekuler commented on the importance of anticipating future growth of the town in planning Sharon’s water storage needs. Paul Lauenstein responded by saying the Metcalf & Eddy report made no allowance for a water conservation program offsetting an increase in water demand associated with population growth.
Rory McGregor asked about other applications of the model besides evaluating the proposed HPSD and new water tank. Eric Hooper said it played an important role in establishing piping priorities to move water from the west side of town to the east side. He said it was useful in predicting the benefit of enlarging the Depot Street water main, so the Upland Road water tank can provide more water during peak demand periods.
Paul Lauenstein said the Metcalf & Eddy report lists many water main upgrades but does not prioritize them. Eric Hooper responded that the hydraulic model allows the town to evaluate and prioritize water main upgrades itself, and therefore does not need a consultant’s opinion.
Michael Birschbach asked for a clarification of the cause of head (pressure) loss as water travels through a pipe. Eric Hooper explained that head loss results from friction as water travels through a pipe, and added that head loss per foot of small diameter pipe is greater than head loss per foot of large diameter pipe.
Eric Hooper said the Fire Department used 1700 gpm for an hour to extinguish the recent Foundry Road fire, and had difficulty pumping that much water. He said the 500 gpm recommended by ISO would have been insufficient, and questioned the adequacy of ISO standards for real life fire fighting situations.
Paul Lauenstein responded that the Fire Department had been successful in extinguishing the blaze with existing resources despite a bottleneck restricting flow to Foundry Road. He added that the insurance industry nationwide relies on ISO ratings in setting fire insurance rates, so the ratings have to be reasonably good measures of risk.
Michael Jones suggested that the conclusions of the Metcalf & Eddy report are probably valid, given that they agree with previous water master plans, and the fact the report was prepared at great expense by a prestigious Boston consulting firm.
Greg Meister questioned Michael Jones’ right to judge the Metcalf & Eddy report, saying Michael Jones had read neither the report nor previous master plans, and had not attended any prior WMAC meetings.
Alice Cheyer asked why the ISO fire flow standards are so much less than those used by Metcalf & Eddy.
David Grasfield said the difference between the ISO standard of 500 gpm for 2 hours and the standard of 1500 gpm for 4 hours used in the report should be reconciled before accepting the report. He suggested getting input from the Fire Department.
Referring to Sharon’s ISO report, Richard Mandell pointed out that at Bishop Road and Eisenhower Drive, which is within the HPSD proposed by Metcalf & Eddy, there is 2200 gpm available at 20 psi, which is far more than the 750 gpm ISO standard listed for that location.
Eric Hooper countered by pointing out that the Sharon Middle School on Mountain Street has an ISO requirement of 4,000 gpm, and has only 340 gpm available. Greg Meister replied that improvements have been made since the ISO report came out to increase available flow to the Middle School, and renovations scheduled for the Middle School include a sprinkler system, which greatly reduces fire risk.
Rory McGregor asked if there were any other issues to be discussed relating to the Metcalf & Eddy report.
Paul Lauenstein said he does not consider the Metcalf & Eddy report a master plan because it focuses on just one aspect of Sharon’s water supply situation rather than addressing an array of higher priorities such as new wells, emergency backup, rising nitrates, water conservation, aquifer protection, and iron/manganese treatment. He said that since 1986 a master plan update has been done only once every six years, and should survey all issues facing the town’s water supply. He added that going into debt to finance the proposed $5.5 million HPSD and water tank would make it difficult to fund other projects.
Referring to Paul Lauenstein’s 4-page critique of the Metcalf & Eddy report, Eric Hooper said that although a few good points were made, the critique is mostly incorrect and does not constitute legitimate criticism of the report. He added that he has prepared a written response to the critique.
Eric Hooper said Sharon has a water storage deficiency, and that residual water pressure is too low to fight fires in elevated parts of town.
Alice Cheyer suggested that ISO might not be as familiar with Sharon as Metcalf & Eddy, and therefore not as qualified to judge how much flow is needed to fight fires. She added that perhaps Sharon should gear its fire fighting capability to a higher standard than ISO.
Eric Hooper replied that the ISO professionals who assess the town’s fire fighting capability town are qualified. He said ISO fire flow standards vary according to type and density of buildings. Schools and commercial structures typically need much higher flows than residential areas.
Alice Cheyer pointed out that dense 40-B developments would need more fire flow, and asked whether higher fire flow requirements of commercial buildings dictated water storage needs for the entire town. Eric Hooper said this was the case, adding that the reason for this is that the town’s water mains are all one interconnected grid. Therefore, a high fire flow in any part of town draws water from all parts of town.
Rory McGregor added that the hydraulic model would be useful for predicting fire flow needs of new developments.
Richard Mandell asked if a commercial building is sprinklered would it reduce the required fire flow. Eric Hooper replied that adequate fire flows must be available regardless of sprinkler systems, and that increasing the town’s storage capacity would make more water available to fight fires.
Richard Mandell pointed out that the proposed HPSD and new water tank would not improve fire readiness in a number of vulnerable neighborhoods such as Briggs Pond and Moose Hill.
Len Sekuler said that the decision of whether or not to spend $5.5 million on the proposed HPSD and new water tank is a judgement call between cost and level of service.
David Grasfield said the Water Commissioners (Selectmen) will make final decisions on water supply issues based on input from the Water Department, paid consultants, and the WMAC. He said the Selectmen’s role is to ask the important questions, weigh the answers and make decisions. He said the efforts of the WMAC are very valuable, especially given the Selectmen’s lack of technical expertise, but the committee should be mindful of their advisory role in the decision making process. He reminded the committee of the need to review its charter.
David Grasfield encouraged the committee to investigate surrounding towns’ ISO ratings. He suggested that committee members ask how the Fire Department, hydrant maintenance and other aspects of fire readiness mesh with the water supply in providing overall fire protection to the town. He cautioned against blindly accepting expert opinion and results of modeled scenarios.
Eric Hooper said it is unfair to criticize projects at the eleventh hour after great effort has been put into planning and preparation, especially when RFPs are available for inspection at the outset. He added that preventing projects from coming to fruition at the last minute may have unintended negative consequences.
David Grasfield replied that if proposals are well conceived they will stand up to criticism at every stage of the process. He said that by challenging the validity of proposals the best interests of the town are served.
Rory asked again if there were any further questions regarding the Metcalf & Eddy report.
Richard Mandell said he was still not satisfied and had many questions. He said the debate could go on ad nauseum. He suggested that a peer review of the study might be appropriate.
Michael Birschbach said he was not satisfied with the discussions so far, and questioned the reliability of the hydraulic model as a predictor of actual results. He said he put more faith in ISO than Metcalf & Eddy.
Eric Hooper countered that ISO only sampled 19 locations in Sharon. He said Metcalf & Eddy based their conclusions on a more in-depth study of Sharon’s particular situation.
Michael Birschbach replied that ISO’s experience with national fire statistics, coupled with the laws of physics, meant that they were well qualified to evaluate the capacity of Sharon’s water supply for fighting fires.
Len Sekuler said there were two issues: first, did Metcalf & Eddy do a good enough job to receive payment, and second, is further evaluation called for.
Jack Sulik said he felt Metcalf & Eddy did what they were asked and deserved to be paid. He said challenging the conclusions of the report at this late stage is inappropriate. He added that the Metcalf & Eddy report is merely an update, not a master plan.
Lealdon Langley agreed that Metcalf & Eddy had done what they were asked to do and should be paid, but he said he was uncomfortable with their conclusions and recommendations.
Paul Lauenstein said he was unhappy about the fact that two of the 15 hydrant tests could not be reconciled with the model. He also commented on the fact that the status of valves at the time of the hydrant tests was unknown, requiring that the calibration had to be completed by a process of trial and error. He therefore viewed the hydraulic model calibration, a primary objective of the study, as incomplete and unreliable.
Richard Mandell said he would like to see more information about the reliability of VFD booster pumps because the Metcalf & Eddy report cited unreliability of VFD pumps as a reason for rejecting an apparently viable and less expensive alternative to a new water tank.
Lealdon Langley said he would like more information about how water obtained from outside sources such as MWRA and Aquaria could be used to address the fire readiness issue.
Rory McGregor said he was confident that Metcalf & Eddy would be happy to answer questions about their report since they value their relationship as a vendor with the Town of Sharon.
Len Sekuler suggested that questions for Metcalf & Eddy should be put in writing.
Jack Sulik said he saw no need to withhold payment.
Lealdon Langley expressed concern that if the bill were paid Metcalf & Eddy would charge the town for extra time spent defending their report.
David Grasfield explained that the Water Department Supervisor contracts with the consultant and approves payment of the invoice after obtaining the signatures of at least two Selectmen.
Eric Hooper said the invoice was already signed off by himself and two Selectmen.
Charles Goodman asked how much the Metcalf & Eddy invoice came to.
Eric Hooper replied that the final invoice came to approximately $14,000.
Charles Goodman asked how much the entire project cost.
Eric Hooper said that expenditures on this project in FY ’04 were in the neighborhood of $150,000.
Charles Goodman asked if the work had been quoted in advance.
Eric Hooper said the Water Department requested a scope of work with a cost estimate. Three firms submitted proposals. Metcalf & Eddy was selected. The cost of the project was subsequently amended to reflect change orders.
Rory McGregor made a motion as follows:
MOTION: Move to accept the Metcalf & Eddy report, pay the final invoice for work performed, but not to accept the conclusions and recommendations at this time.
The motion passed by a margin of 4 in favor, 2 opposed (Paul Lauenstein and Michael Birschbach), and 1 abstained (Richard Mandell).
4. Other business
Eric Hooper requested that the list of 10 questions posed by Paul Lauenstein regarding the Annual Statistical Report be included in the agenda for the June 10 WMAC meeting.
Michael Birschbach relayed complaints from neighbors about discolored brown, bad tasting water, and asked about the safety of drinking it.
Eric Hooper said the water is safe to drink. He said the discoloration is the result of flushing water mains to clear sediment that might otherwise interfere with fighting fires. He said the water is chlorinated to kill bacteria, and tested for bacteria at the tap. He said no bacteria have appeared in any samples during the flushing. He said the brown color is attributable to iron and manganese, which is not harmful. He said if the color is objectionable, one can just buy bottled water until the flushing is completed, which should be soon.
David Grasfield encouraged the Water Department to take advantage of the televised Selectmen’s meetings to alert the town to the possibility of harmless discoloration in advance of scheduled flushing of water mains.
David Grasfield reported that Michael Intoccia is the new owner of the land formerly owned by Mr. Gobbi that is being considered as a well site. David Grasfield said Michael Intoccia probably soon will grant access to the site for drilling an exploratory well to test the aquifer there.
Eric Hooper reported that the cemetery near the Canton Street site soon will begin pumping water for irrigation. He said that samples could be taken to assess water quality within one to two weeks following initiation of pumping.
Rory McGregor reported that the DEP scored Sharon in the top 10% statewide for water quality. Jack Sulick added that Sharon has consistently scored in the top 10% for many years.
5. Schedule the next meeting for Thursday, June 10 at 7:30 PM