Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning unveiled a new notification service to warn property owners of steep increases in daily water usage at a press conference held at the Douglaston Pumping Station.
The alerts, which can be sent via email, regular mail or by phone, were put into place today to help head off costly water bills for unsuspecting home and business owners.
"It enables DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] to let customers know quickly when there are unusual spikes in the amount of water they are using compared to their normal consumption patterns — spikes that could be a tip-off to a leak in their home or somewhere on their property," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg praised the wireless technology that connects thousands of newly installed water meter readers throughout Queens and the rest of the city to a central system that tracks usage daily — and in the case of larger buildings, every hour.
Councilman Mark Weprin, D-Oakland Gardens, praised the new alert system while acknowledging continued anger among some constituents over higher water bills .
"The mayor, to his credit, really has made an effort to bring technology to city agencies, to open transparency, and I think that's great," Weprin said. "And while I and many of my constituents continue to complain that the water rates are too damn high, we are delighted with this aspect of the program."
So far, city DEP installed wireless meter readers at 835,000 properties in the five boroughs.
One homeowner, Lisha Li, who owns properties in Flushing and College Point, credited the alert system made possible by the wireless meter readers for saving her up to $10,000 in possible water usage charges.
According to Li, a DEP representative informed her by telephone that water usage at one of her properties was up to 20 times higher than normal. The rep advised Li to contact a plumber, who later discovered a leak in an underground pipe on the property.
"I'm glad to see modern technology applied to help people like me," Li said.
DEP commissioner Cas Holloway touted the initiative unveiled today, the Leak Notification Program, which he said was made possible by the city's $252 million investment in wireless meter reading technology.
"Having a leak in your home is bad enough, but finding out about it months later and having to pay for all the wasted water is even worse," Holloway said.
Water customers with wireless water meters can sign up to view usage in their home or place of business, as well as opt-in to the new leak alert system, here.
At the press conference, members of the Bloomberg administration briefly addressed concerns over , which have been attributed to a combination of a spike in usage read by the new meters and an increase in water rates.
"The ways you pay for this kind of technology is from the water rates," Bloomberg said. "This is what we are doing to give people down the road better water, more dependable and give the technology to make sure that their water — the amount of money they paid — is tied to what they use and that they aren't wasting anything."
Later at the conference, Holloway offered one explanation for increases in usage, with some area homeowners reporting water use double or triple that found on their most recent bill before the wireless meters were installed.
"This summer was one of the hottest summers on record — I think it actually missed that distinction by a less than a tenth of a degree," Holloway said. "We have worked with people and showed them their use online ... and we can show a lot of people that, if you have a watering system and they have been watering their lawn, they will understand and say, 'I can see how my water use went up.'"
As for the mayor's water bill at his townhouse on Manhattan's Upper West Side?
"I'm told that water use has been trending down," Bloomberg said. "Though it was up recently."