AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Patricia Dabbert learned Austin Water would upgrade her analog water meter to a “smart meter” she had some questions.

“We were concerned about having access online because of hacking, someone being able to control from outside Austin water, even,” Dabbert said.

Austin Water plans to replace 250,000 analog water meters with smart meters. Water officials said this infrastructure overhaul will modernize the system which will allow customers to control and monitor their usage online. Austin Water officials said the smart meters help customers keep track of their water usage online and provide up-to-date notices.

They said when it comes to fears of potential hacking or service interruption people shouldn’t worry.

“The data transmission system is encrypted and anonymous, it’s secure from hacking,” Explained Randi Jenkins, the agency’s assistant director. “Water service can only be turned off manually, so there’s no risk of service interruption from this system.”

Those who want to keep their analog water meters will have to pay a one-time fee of $75 and then $10 each month. Austin Water officials said the money will go to ensuring a technician can continue to read the meter.
That’s because the water utility company plans to eventually end its roughly $2.8 million contract with Bermex – the current utility meter reading company it relies on.

However, for their own peace of mind, the Dabberts are planning to opt out of the smart meters and stick with their analog meters.

“People need to be informed of their choices,” Dabbert said. “They’re going to online thermostats [and] online water, you know, people need to have their control if they want it.”

Austin Water shared with KXAN a customer video showcasing the impact of smart meters. Austin Water officials said one of their customers received “alerts from the My ATX Water customer portal telling her she might have a leak. She investigated and found out her cat was going into the bathroom and turned the water on to get a drink and play. They were out of town and their pet sitter didn’t notice the door was open and it was happening. Since (the customer) was alerted, she was able to speak to a customer service representative and find out if she qualifies and how to apply for a one-time high bill adjustment.”

Austin Water customers can check an interactive map to see when Austin Water will install the new meter in their neighborhood.

For customers who have switched over to the new smart meters Austin Water said people can use “a meter key that is available at any home improvement or hardware store to open the kids.”

Austin Water video showcasing how to find and turn off your water shut-off valve

Officials said they understand this may be a necessity during the winter months. They said they also “had a supply of meter keys free for customers to pick up at the City of Austin Utilities billing centers.” The water utility has plans to “do those types of events and distributions later this year again.” Adding, “While we do recommend that residents know where their property shut-off valves are, they can still access the main meter with a key.”

If a customer has a water emergency, Austin Water said customers can also call the Austin Water Emergency Dispatch at (512) 972.1000. If you would rather opt-out of the smart meter installation, you can call (512) 494-9400.

At present, Austin Water has replaced 50,000 water meters. It expects to get all of the water meters done by 2024.