New water meter system unveiled in Little Neck

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Among the pipes and machinery of the Douglaston Pump Station, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway announced a new, wireless water meter tracking system that will allow the DEP to alert customers to leaks soon after they occur.

“It is certain to save New Yorkers plenty of aggravation and save them lots of money as well,” Bloomberg said.

This was the official announcement of a plan the city has been operating as a trial for months. In December, the city began installing the meters, which work by radio transmissions and can track water usage four times a day. In the past, water meters were checked once a quarter.

“These readings help us identify a regular pattern for each one of our customers,” Holloway said.

Bloomberg said this project is part of a larger plan, NYC Simplicity, to make city services more dependable and efficient. By checking multiple times a day, the department is able to let customers know of any unusual spikes in water usage and alert them by phone rather than having the problem go unnoticed until the user gets a monthly bill.

Holloway said a toilet leak that it detected had made one Flushing user’s bill jump from $1.60 a day to $26 a day. A Far Rockaway resident’s bill soared from $3 to $85 a day because of a garden hose leak. The department has sent out about 1,300 such alerts since December.

Flushing resident Lisha Li said the department called her after her rental property in College Point began showing high water usage. On the department’s recommendation, she called a plumber who found an underground pipe had broken due to cold weather. She said she is planning to write a letter to the department so they do not charge her for the hundreds of dollars she incurred for five days of the leak, but is glad the department alerted her so she did not have to pay thousands of dollars.

“I really encourage people, all the New Yorkers, to sign up for this program,” she said.

Holloway said the department has installed 615,000 out of 835,000 meters it plans to install throughout the city. These installations are budgeted at a collective $252 million and should be done by January 2012.

Yet not all customers have been happy with the new technology. Civic activist George Karahalis said his organization, the Douglaston Commonwealth Civic Association, has heard numerous complaints about fees of up to 25 percent to 35 percent higher with the new meters.

“I don’t think anybody was satisfied,” Karahalis said.

Still, City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said he applauded this effort to use technology in city agencies.

“It really lets people know if there’s a problem in [their] house,” Weprin said.

Customers can check their water bills at and can sign up for the service on the website or by calling 311.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 10:41 am, October 12, 2011
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