City Council approves water meter opt-out program

JAMIE CHEN / AGGIE

Residents concerned with adverse health effects of radio transmissions

An opt-out option for the city’s new water meters was approved during a public hearing on Sept. 25. The vote was 3-1, with Councilmember Dan Carson not approving.

Through the water meter upgrade project, new advanced metering infrastructure meters have been installed in every Davis household. These water meters give residents online access to their water usage spending.

However, some residents have requested an option to opt-out of adapting to these new water meters. The main concern that prompted this is the potential harmful effects of the radio frequencies emitted from the AMIs. Though there have only been 27 requests — less than 1 percent of the Davis population — the city staff developed a plan for an alternative water meter.  These residents would retain the manual function of their water meters.

Davis residents who choose to opt out must submit an application to the public works water division. The agreement would appoint a city staff member to visit the resident’s house once a month to manually measure the water usage. Residents would be charged a fee for the manual reading and labor cost.

“Each individual has a variety of reasons for [opting out], but basically it all boils down to the radio transmitter systems,” said Mike Webb, the city manager, during the hearing. “So what staff has worked on is to develop a proposal that would provide an opt-out alternative.”

The residents who want to opt-out claim the the radio frequency may be a cause for adverse health effects. According to Ellen Cohen, who spoke during the hearing, 13 local governments in California have banned these smart meter installations, including Santa Cruz.

“These devices can cause arrhythmias and other heart problems, and fertility issues, cognitive impairment,” Cohen said. “Residents and cities around the country in which radio frequency water meters are used are increasingly complaining of headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, nausea [and] insomnia, since their installation.”

One resident, Karen Bloomquist, presented a map to the council which details all of these areas where there are high volumes of radio frequency.

[The map] shows the frequency strengths that are occuring along the street where people walk,” Bloomquist said. “Some of those areas are highly dangerous. I can picture a child walking down the street and just being radiated while they do something. Think about that.”

While the monthly fee for the manual water meter was originally set at $37.50, this was due to the duration (one hour) of the reading. However, Mayor Brett Lee amended it so that the estimate is lowered, as the reading should take no more than 30 minutes.

Carson was the only councilmember who didn’t vote yes on the proposal. He explained how he had done the research, and his conclusion was that the radio frequencies were not adversely harmful.

“I guess I’m guided by a career of believing in science and understanding that you have to take the weight of the evidence,” Carson said. “You can always find a particular study that says something different […] I want you to know I took those emails and those comments [that residents] made seriously, but I come out the other end feeling this program doesn’t make sense, and so I can’t support the opt-out program.”

While Councilmember Will Arnold and Mayor Pro-Tempore Gloria Partida agreed that the evidence behind these claims may not have been substantial, they approved of the resolution.

“I share [Carson’s] belief behind the radio frequencies,” Arnold said. “That however, doesn’t lead to the same conclusion — I support the opt-out program. If folks want to opt out, they can opt out. We have in front of us a breakdown of the fees [and] I personally think that those fees seem pretty reasonable.”

Fees for opting out of the water meter program will once again be reconsidered in a year  once more data is available about the popularity of the program and its true cost of labor.

 

Written by: Hannan Waliullah – city@theaggie.org