Water Authority-Cayman has ordered monitoring company CostWatch to remove transmitters that track water usage from its customers’ meters.

CostWatch informed a number of its clients this week that it had been instructed by the Water Authority to uninstall the equipment which lets customers know via their phones if there is an unexpected hike in water use.

In response to queries from the Cayman Compass, a Water Authority spokesperson said, “As with all utilities, all equipment, including meters, that are installed before the customer’s connection, are the property of the utility. Accordingly, only the utility’s authorised employees, agents or contractors are permitted to install, remove or work on such assets. This is no different in the case of Water Authority-Cayman.

“While all customers are encouraged to monitor their water usage, which is possible via different methods, any installation of monitoring must be downstream of the Authority’s assets and on the customer’s plumbing. The Authority is duty bound to protect all of its vested assets and cannot allow third parties to interfere or damage them regardless of their intentions.”

Brian Roffey, owner of CostWatch, which has been in operation for about 10 years, said no meters had been damaged by the addition of the transmitters.

He said his company intended to comply with the instructions from the Water Authority, adding that only about 20 customers were affected, as the addition of transmitters directly to the meters was in a pilot stage.

“We supply a water monitoring service … to notify residents and businesses if there is a leak or anything like that going on, and allow them to track and manage their usage on their phones in real time,” he said. “In the past, we have installed a secondary meter with a transmitter on it.”

Recently, however, CostWatch has been adding the transmitters to Water Authority meters, thereby negating the need, and additional cost, of installing a secondary meter, Roffey said.

He said the Water Authority meters are designed to have such transmitters added to them, to allow customers to keep track of their water usage without having to physically read their own meters every day.

This is a typical secondary meter used by CostWatch.

Adding a secondary meter can cost “a few hundred dollars”, Roffey said, which can be prohibitively expensive for the very customers who would be most interested in tracking their water usage – those on low incomes.

“One of the challenges we have had is the cost of installing the secondary meter… so we have been trying to get the cost of our service down as low as possible,” he said. Being able to monitor water usage directly from the Water Authority meter makes it “cost effective for almost everyone”, he added.

One of the affected customers, Joanna Boxall, said she was “horrified” to hear that her CostWatch service was being discontinued, stating that she believes it has saved her hundreds of dollars since it was installed in September 2019.

Before the CostWatch tracker was installed on her meter, her monthly water bills were varying from $350 to $1,600 a month. Since its addition, she said, she gets an alert on her phone app anytime her average hourly water usage appears to be edging up, for example, if a garden hose or a tap has been left on.

She said she finds the service so invaluable that she is willing to pay the additional cost of having a secondary meter installed.

“We’re going to do it in a heartbeat,” she said. “There’s no way we’re not having our water monitored. Maybe some people are willing to stick their head in a box in the ground with a torch and read their own meter and monitor it on a spreadsheet. I don’t see who has the time to do that.”

She added, “It’s not realistic. If you check the meter every morning, if you have left a hose on and you’ve been pumping out 56 gallons of water an hour, your bill is going to be enormous by the next morning.”

Roffey said he believes his company’s services are in line with the government’s ‘Plan Cayman’, which aims to form the basis for the islands’ proposed overall development plan. A section within Plan Cayman states the aim of promoting “water conservation practices to help minimise impact on the environment, costs, and strain on the existing water system”.

The Water Authority, on its website, advises its customers to check their own meters regularly to keep track of how much water they are using and to identify any unusual usage activity that might indicate a leak or illegal interference. It also supplies a daily water usage chart that can be filled in so that customers can track their water consumption.

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