Tairua “smart” water meter update

On Thursday or Friday (April 24 or 25, 2014) I put in a request under the Official Information Act to the Thames-Coromandel District Council for information about the trail of “smart” water meters planned for the town of Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsula during May 2014. I addressed the request to Mr Bruce Hinson, who is the Thames Coromandel Council Infrastructure Manager.

On Wednesday (April 30), I received an email from a member of the engineering team stating that the Council could answer my questions, but it would cost me $114 – and payment was required before they would action the request.  (Under the Official Information Act (OIA) councils and other government agencies are allowed to charge for time to prepare answers to OIA requests, but they do not usually do so.)  The tone of the email was friendly, so I decided to phone the respondent to discuss the matter, so that is what I did on May 2, 2014.

I spoke at length to a very personable young man who recently graduated from university with a degree in civil and environmental engineering who is working on the “smart” water meter trial. He explained that the Council’s objective in trialing the “smart” water meters was to better manage water for Tairua.


Rationale for the trial of “smart” water meters in Tairua

Water for the town of Tairua is drawn from a river, which naturally carries lower water volumes during summer when demand for water peaks due to an influx of  people arriving for summer holidays in their baches. (People “go crazy” washing things, he said, during the two weeks of the year that they live in their holiday homes.)  The Thames-Coromandel Council had an obligation under its resource consent for drawing water from the river not to create an excessive impact on the river system, he said, the implication being that “smart” water meters could help achieve this. Currently there are no water meters in Tairua, he said. “Smart” water meters were considered by the team to be a better option than conventional meters because there was no need to physically access the meter box (such as by prying up the meter box cover) to get a reading, and the potential for human error in reading meters was eliminated by the wireless transmission of data.

We did not discuss what other measures, if any, the Council has trialled to reduce  or better manage water demand at the peak time of year, such, as for example, public education campaigns to promote water conservation and/or promotion of installation of rain water tanks to supplement the town water supply for some applications.  (This was an oversight on my part.)


Technical aspects of the “smart” water meters being trialled in Tairua

The young engineer was excited by the results of the trial so far, in which an initial test had shown that the signal from one of the “smart” water meters could be detected 600 metres from the “smart” meter, despite buildings and trees being in the way between the water meter and receiver.

The “smart” meter chosen by the Council for Tairua is the Sappel Altair Concentric V3 meter supplied in NZ by Hynds.  The Council has chosen to use the 434MHz  option for the transmission frequency (which presumably means that the Council engineering team has chosen to team up the meters with the Diehl IZAR RC radio transmitter.)  434 MHz is a public frequency also utilised by some common gadgets such as automatic garage door openers.  However, the manufacturer of the IZAR RC radio transmitter designed to be compatible with Sappel modular meter states that its transmission range is “500 metres, depending on the environment”, so it is obviously much more powerful than a garage door opening gizmo.  (In practice, as above, the transmission range may be longer than the manufacturer’s specifications.)

According to the engineer, the “‘smart” meters chosen will be transmitting every eight seconds.  (The battery life of the for the transmitter is claimed by the manufacturer to be 15 years, without any sort of guarantee that this will actually be the case.) The Council is exploring different ideas for reading the meters, I was told. The trial is using a handheld or drive-by system in which a portable device is used to collect the data from the “smart” water meters as they transmit.  The transmitters on the meters are unidirectional.  One option the Council team is considering for the ongoing collection of data is to have a receiver mounted in the rubbish trucks which make weekly rounds of the towns to collect garbage, thereby eliminating the need for a separate vehicle (or person on foot) to patrol the streets to collect the data.  This is considered an attractive option because it would reduce the cost associated with gathering data from the “smart” meters.


Possible implications for privacy if the trial is considered successful

The IZAR transmitters that are compatible with the Sappel meters used in the Tairua trial have the capacity to be used with a fixed “IZAR RECEIVER GPRS/LAN” system which is capable of collecting all the data from “smart” water meters, storing it and then transferring it to a central computer system.  If the Thames-Coromandel District Council were happy with the results of the Tairua trial and chose this option for collection of data from “smart” water meters, this potentially raises privacy concerns, since if the meters transmit data every eight seconds, it should be theoretically possible to use the data to work out patterns of activity in a household, based on patterns of water consumption, in a similar way in which patterns of activity in a household can be inferred from electricity use.  (See the graphic at this link http://www.smartmeterpowerstruggle.wordpress.com/  for an example of how electricity “smart meters” can compromise privacy, and for a discussion of privacy and home security issues please see these links: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/network-tasman-there-are-no-privacy-concerns-with-smart-meters-yeah-right/ and www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/how-smart-meters-can-help-burglars/.)


Health implications

About 25% of households and businesses in Tairua have been selected by the Council to participate the in trial.  (The properties chosen have been selected on the basis of ensuring that they represent different types of properties (i.e. permanent residential, holiday homes and business) and different areas of the town.) By contrast, the trial of “smart” water meters in Tauranga was limited to one suburb. (See this link for a discussion of the trial of “smart” water meters in Tauranga: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/smart-water-meters-in-nz-the-situation-so-far/.)

Considering that each “smart” water meter used in the Tairua trial will transmit every eight seconds around the clock for a distance of up to half a kilometre (or possibly more) at the 434MHZ frequency, the “smart” water meter trial in Tairua may represent an experiment in exposure of an entire town to this particular frequency at levels that are unique in the history of NZ.

People who have electrohypersensitivity (EHS)** may be adversely affected by this trial.  Overseas, concern has been raised that exposure to the non-ionising radiation produced by “smart” meters used to measure electricity consumption appears to act as a trigger for the development of EHS in some people. (See: http://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/aaem-wireless-smart-meter-case-studies.pdf )   In NZ, many of the “smart” meters being introduced for electricity are designed to transmit for longer distances (“a few kilometres”), according to the PDF “Smart-Meter-FAQ-Aug11.pdf” on the website of the Electricity Authority, so electricity “smart” meters are obviously more powerful than are “smart” water meters.  Moreover, as the strength of the signal from any “smart” meter declines with distance, “smart” electricity meters which are typically mounted on the wall of a home probably pose more of a risk than “smart” water meters on council property. (Presumably these will be installed in the footpath, as  are the conventional “water” meters in Auckland.)  However, the possibility that “smart” water meters may trigger EHS cannot be ruled out and the longer term effects of living in an area where “smart” waters meters transmit every eight seconds twenty four hours a day must be considered an unknown.


Possible outcome of the trial

If the trial is successful, conceivably the Thames-Tairua District Council may choose to introduce “smart” water meters in other towns in its region.

Pe0ple in Tairua (or elsewhere in the  area administered by the Thames-Tairua District Council) who are not happy with the idea of being exposed to additional electromagnetic radiation from “smart” water meters may wish to notify the Council that they do not consent to the installation of a “smart” water meter to measure water consumption at their home or business.  A template that can be personalised may be downloaded from the link below:


Please share this post with family and friends in this area. 


More information on smart water meters in NZ may be found at this post: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/smart-water-meters-in-nz-the-situation-so-far/


**Information on electrohypersensitivity may be found at this link: http://www.es-uk.info/

For a personal story which illustrates how difficult a condition EHS is for sufferers to live with, please see this link: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/what-is-it-like-to-live-with-electrohypersensitivity-ehs-one-womans-story/

Health professionals may want to read this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/87308119/Guideline-of-the-Austrian-Medical-Association-for-the-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-EMF-related-health-problems-and-illnesses-EMF-syndrome