By Jason Allen

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – When your bank account shows you’re running low on cash, you can cut back on your spending. When you get close to your data limit, chances are you stop streaming all those cat videos. Cutting back on water though, is just a guessing game.

That’s changing in towns like Westlake.

With just one look at a computer screen, Nick Smith, knows when something is different at his house.

“I can tell when I’ve had visitors here,” he said. “I can tell.”

Smith can check his water usage online, not just by the month, or week, but by the hour. He can compare it to past months, or even see what the temperature was like on certain days. And if there’s a leak, he doesn’t have to wait for the big bill at the end of the month to know.

Smith’s home is one of 10 in the town testing new digital, wireless water meters.

Public Works Director Jarrod Greenwood explained that the new devices will, “actually upload the meter reading every day.”

It could be especially useful in a town where big estates, mean big water use rates. Per capita rates run as high as 600 gallon per day, Greenwood said.

Smith’s house, which the homebuilder uses as a show house, has a pool, pond and fountain and has to stay green for potential clients.

“I can see exactly, day-by-day, how much [water] is being used which I couldn’t do before,” he said.

If the new digital meters are successful Greenwood says the city will roll them out all over town.

Plano finished installing a similar system two years ago. The city installed more than 82,000 meters, that provide updates on usage amounts every six hours.

Because of water restrictions, and an increased emphasis on conservation, assistant city manger Mark Israelson said it’s hard to tell if the meters have helped cut water use in the city.

It has improved the transparency of the billing system though he said.

Water bills often invite criticism from homeowners, who insist they haven’t used as much as they are being billed for.

“It provides them with a great deal of information to track their use,” Israelson said. “It gives them education on how much they’re actually using when they use their sprinkler system.”

Over the long term, cities save money, since employees are not required to drive around in a city vehicle and check meters one-by-one.

Israelson said they are not being used as an enforcement tool of any kind, to check in on water use while restrictions are in place.

Cost, could limit the ability of other larger cities to move to the automated system. Plano invested $20 million dollars for its system, paid for out of the water and sewer fund.

Fort Worth expects to start testing a system within the next few months, but a larger rollout could be limited by cost. Arlington has about 20-percent of the city on automated meters, and has about 600 customers in a project resting hourly readings and estimated bills.

Grapevine is also involved in a 90-day trial program at the Grapevine Mills Mall.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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