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What is a Water Meter?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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A water meter is a device that is utilized to track or measure a consumer’s use of water reserves at a given location. Utility companies make use of water meters at the sites of both commercial and residential customers and base charges on the results of the readings from the devices. Consumers sometimes also utilize the water meter as a means of tracking their own usage, with the goal of reducing wasteful use of the resource. This is especially true when the local area is undergoing a drought situation and the stress placed on local water reserves is increased.

There are different types of water meter technology used around the world. The configurations used for commercial sites are sometimes different than the devices selected and installed at residences. Some are designed to quickly track usage based on flow of water through a connection between the municipal water system and the end user’s location based on the rate of that flow. Typically, this means controlling the rate of that flow so that the programming for the meter can remain constant and accurate.

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In many nations, it is not unusual for uniform standards to be set either by a government agency or a nationally recognized association of manufacturers who agree to make use of those standards. In the United States, the American Water Works Association is the framework that establishes the standards for both residential and commercial water meter products. Those standards are developed in compliance with governmental regulations that have to do with the use of natural resources within the nation, and that make it possible for the various water meter units to also comply with safety and performance standards found in local communities.

The actual design of the water meter will often depend on the type of customer that will be served by the device. With residential customers, many community water works and boards favor a simplistic design that measures the flow of water from the municipal water system into the residence. When a tap is opened, the meter registers the inbound flow of the water as a specific measurement. That measurement can then be converted into a cost using a usage table.

In times past, the typical pattern was for an employee known as a meter reader to physically visit each residence, record the reading for the month, reset the meter to zero and report the findings for billing purposes. Some communities no longer conduct regular site visits, but base water usage on an average of readings collected several times per year. Increasingly, water meter designs that incorporate computer technology to transmit usage figures to a central office and download them into a billing database are in use around the world. This makes it possible to secure real-time data for billing without the use of a great deal of manual labor, and also helps to increase the accuracy of the billing process.

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