7 Jul 2011

How much for a irrigation water meter?

(via RM) I got this:
Commission Recommends Ag Water Measurement Regulations

The California Water Commission at its meeting June 15 recommended that the state adopt agricultural water measurement regulations.

Developed under SBX7-7 as part of the comprehensive water legislation of 2009, the proposed regulations would require accurate measurement devices on nearly all irrigation laterals and turnouts in the state, numbering more than 115,000 gates, and would require between 5% and 12% volume accuracy for delivered water. Water supplies would face a deadline of July 31, 2012, to begin measuring volumes delivered to farm and ranch customers.

At a previous water commission meeting, Department of Water Resources officials had suggested that certified volume measurement devices could cost $6,500 each and $1,200 per year for monitoring, repair and reporting.
Those numbers do not seem credible. In this post, I reported that urban "smart meters" (can be monitored in real-time) cost $400 each to install and $2 each to monitor per year.

I understand that agricultural meters are different in size and configuration, but they do not need to be that accurate (5-12% error!).

I bet a pitcher of beer that a competitive market for installing and metering ag water use would come in at 10% of DWR's prices -- $650 per meter and $120 per year of monitoring.

You up for a challenge, Mark?

Bottom Line: DWR is making up big numbers either because they want the money for themselves or want to block agricultural meters by making them look too expensive.

Addendum (Jul 2016): I don't mind buying beer for Mike or Delbert but I did say "competitive market."


Mr Kurtz said...

I guess it's a matter of volumes and wallets. There is just not a huge market for these things. A lot of scientific equipment would be 'way cheaper than is is if a million units could be sold during the product life cycle, instead of a few thousand.
As to the wallets, most of this kind of gear is bought by a public agency of some sort, who merrily pass the cost on to their users. They try to spend money wisely; but is it's not really theirs, how much do they care? Ask Congress.

California Farm Water Coalition said...

Your understanding of the complexity and cost associated with measuring farm water deliveries seems to be short on facts. There is no comparison of the task required by the measurement portion of SBx7-7 to an urban smart meter. Farm water deliveries occur in much higher volumes and through a variety of conveyance structures that in most cases were not originally designed to measure water at the accuracy now required by law. The new structures that will be required to accommodate accurate, verifiable results are not even close to a simple meter on the typical one-inch pipe serving a house.

Unit Cost estimates were based on the actual purchasing experience (bids, purchase, etc.) of a water supplier in 2008 (adjusted for inflation). These costs were seen to be an entry-level cost, with no automation or telemetry. They are in line with both vendor projections and the experience of other water supplier project costs (IID Upgrades Options, 2007) whose mid-range option is $12,500 per turnout).

In addition, a vendor proclaimed during one of the public agricultural stakeholder committee meetings that he could build a device to meet the new measurement requirements for only $11,000. More recently he was dismayed to see DWR's estimate of $6,500 because he felt the estimate unfairly biased potential buyers against his product.

O&M costs are based on real world experience of successful measurement programs in the state. Information was provided by a number of water suppliers to assist the economists that were conducting the cost analysis.

Finally, your "bottom line" claim that "DWR is making up big numbers either because they want the money for themselves or want to block agricultural meters by making them look too expensive” is nonsense. What money is it that DWR is trying to collect for itself? In reality it is the districts that would pay the installation costs to the contractors doing the work. And asserting that the Department may be trying to block agricultural meters shows that you're unaware that the new measurement standards are a requirement of State law. DWR cannot change that.

You are welcome to deposit $20 for the pitcher of beer in my PayPal account.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Anonymous said...

I remain gob smacked that the USA still has not put meters throughout all its irrigation system. I thought that it was a developed country!

CRG said...

1. What Mr. Kurtz said.

2. These will be purchased by governmental and pseudo-governmental agencies that put lots and lots of requirements on the people they buy from (union or prevailing wage requirements; minority-owned quotas; RFPs, board presentations and 6 months of negotiations for simple purchases; etc.). Those requirements have costs of their own, and vendors who have to jump through lots of hoops tend to build PITA Surcharges into their pricing.

David Zetland said...

@Mike -- I am going to keep my $20 for now. I was talking about the cost of computerized smart meters. Dumb meters are even cheaper. I understand your point about a bid from a vendor who's going to build a meter to bid. I wonder how much meters cost off the shelf from other countries. As for DWR, you and I both know that it is a captive agency serving the interests of irrigators.

CRG said...

Just out of curiosity, what would an off-the-shelf meter look like for this kind of application?

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I'll take you up on this offer! I work directly with monitoring water in real-time and can lay the facts out to you.

The quoted meter costs of $6500 per sensor is a low-ball figure. The equipment we currently use to measure flow in an open channel canal is called an ADCP. This is what is commonly used http://www.sontek.com/argonautsw.php . This is what the USGS, BuRec and other agencies commonly uses to measure flows in an open channel. It is considered to be accurate at 5%. The truth is that the accuracy will be a little less due to field conditions. The cost, by the way, is around $15-$17K for this instrument. That is just the SENSOR costs. Let's look at the other costs to bring in the information in real-time. The Sensor either connects to a data logger DCP or Programmed Logic Controller PLC. Minimum cost for this device is $1500. The Radio/Comm end will be another $1500 for a quality radio modem. All of this needs to be housed in a NEMA Enclosure. Adding misc costs - conduit, wiring and other consumable costs will be around $700. If it's a Solar site, add another $300.

I haven't added the labor costs of the installation or O&M costs yet.

As you see - an inexpensive off the shelf accurate meter solution is not commonly available. There are more inexpensive solutions but the key word(s) here are accuracy and reliability.


Anonymous said...

I did a bit of google digging because I have looked at dirt simple industrial scale totalizing water meters and not seen anything near these prices.

I found this article within 1 minute. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae106

They seem to say that a simple impeller meter is capable of meeting the required accuracy and might cost $400-800 and have a economic evaluation of this. This is based on a 90 acre farm using 12" of water per year and includes the O&M.

As for reading it, if we make the following WAG: A human reads the meter 4 times per year, with a per read cost of $30. It would be hard to imagine a radio solution being able to read from the nearest road (maybe >.5 mile range) would be able to compete with the cost over the first 10 years of service.

So would you rather have a dumb, simple solution that people could afford and give some level of information or demand a best solution that at this time costs an order of magnitude more? It's an easy call for me.

David, I learned an adage that guided me well over many years. "Never attribute to malice that which can equally well be explained by ignorance or stupidity."

If there is some guy screaming that it costs $12K to solve this, and no one finds the article I found and talks to the authors, $6K may sound reasonable. There are certainly people here who have strong opinions that $6K is right or too low...

I love starting with simple solutions that get the camel's nose under the tent. Then we can let the market fight out the benefits of higher price solutions and how to build adoption.


David Zetland said...

@Delbert and Jerry -- thanks for presenting two sides to this discussion. Delbert -- I agree that the systems you've tested cost that much. As you note, they are not "off the shelf" but Jerry has contributed an example of one that is. I reckon that farmers would find a way to get cheap meters IF they had to pay for them. We haven't even BEGUN to consider the price impact of sourcing from China or India.

Jerry's logic on price-framing is also impeccable (or what I would have said :)

Anonymous said...

@Jerry: I looked at the reference you cited. I see why you think that the low price of the instrumentation in the article is 'workable'. For most typical situations in an irrigation district - this solution of using a propeller driven instrument is impractical. First, this device needs to be in a submerged pipe. The pipe has to be a certain length in order for the device to be accurate. Second, if the canal delivering the water is unlined - a good chance that organic matter that grows in it (I.E. Weeds, floating debris) will be inducted through the flow device and will wrap around the blades... (I'll let you figure out the rest).

This is why I said that acoustic sensing is the accepted instrumentation standard that is used in measuring flows in a canal.

The second thing that I wanted to mention about 'reading' the flow from a canal is that it is not done on a Monthly basis that a Residential Customer has. It is done on a 'I need water delivered to my field on this date basis'. The Irrigation district has to meter the distribution in Real Time. They have to know when to open the 'turnout', make a running total of the water issued to the farmer, then close the 'turnout' once the order was filled. I also have to mention that the water master in the district has to figure out 'when' and 'how much to open' the gates on the Mains, Laterals and turnouts. This is why all gates are monitored by a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition SCADA System using a radio network. It's not the same situation nor the same operations of tracking the usage of a residential customer.

Google is a wonderful tool. However, a one minute Google Search will not explain these details. Nor will it tell you that the technology utilized in one area is practical in another application.

My own personal experience of deploying flow monitoring equipment in multiple water districts - I can tell you that every site has some 'issues' with it. You have to modify some sites with a 'control structure' (Weir or flume) to make the site 'readable' for the equipment.

You HAVE to ensure accuracy in the measurement for the farmer. If you are inaccurate - it costs him money.

@Mike Wade (see above comment) understands the nature of the problem.

David - I'll collect my Beer when you visit the Desert South West.


David Zetland said...

@Delbert -- looks like I am buying the first beer. NOW I am going to look for numbers from Australia, India and China (and the rest of the US) to see if you owe me one back :)

Anonymous said...

Australia is a good starting point. After all, it's the home of the 'Dethridge Wheel' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dethridge_wheel :)

Final thought: I don't know the details of SBx7-7 in California but if it is a requirement that the Water Districts and the Farmers have to grapple with -and- it deals with Automation in the farmer's field, I would consult with Charles Burt at Cal Poly ITRC about the issues.


California Farm Water Coalition said...


Delbert Grady's excellent explanation of why simply sticking a meter in a stream of water for the purposes of measuring agricultural deliveries won't work. That was the basis of my initial comment and why it disproves your claim about the cost being one-tenth of DWR's initial estimates.

You bet a pitcher of beer on that one and it's time to pay up. If you're going to make outlandish statements you better be prepared to back them up with facts.

My PayPal account is ready for your $20.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Curt Burnett said...

We're somewhat familiar with irrigation water metering in California at the individual farm level, since we're selling purpose-designed irrigation electromagnetic flow meters into that market in very significant quantities.

The key to the costs being debated here are: size(max flow rate) and whether the flow can be diverted through pipe or a pipe-like structure. Open-channel metering can indeed be expensive if that's the only alternative and especially if hydraulic structures have to be constructed or modified, eg weirs, flumes etc. We're also experienced with the Australian situation where Dethridge wheels (mentioned above) are being replaced en masse with pipe-mounted meters. Again, cost depends on flow rate. Up to about 5,000 gpm and if even short lengths of piping (3x pipe diameter) can be used, prices of self-powered meters can be below $3,000. Above that they can vary wildly with the approach taken. Also, any adaptive structure has to be taken into account. I'm aware that the ITRC at Cal Poly has done quite a bit of work on this type of thing, and that many of the turnouts they were working with were in the 18"-24" range, where prices rise steeply.

Municipal smart metering indeed uses a different approach than does ag metering telemetry, but the latter is evolving rapidly. I think that a price tag of around $1,500/point plus $3-10/month fee is at least within reach.

Note that the quantities mentioned for California are unprecedented in the US for large meters, nearly equal to the metering of the entire country of Australia. If a standard approach is ultimately used for the state so that a different design wasn't required for every district, we manufacturers could do some fairly amazing things with pricing, particularly on the telemetry where up to now low volumes have been the biggest problem.

Anonymous said...

@David Did anyone on LinkedIn answer your questions on this?

@Curt I agree that the technology is advancing rapidly in this area. However, I think that the $1,500/pt plus $3-10/month fee is not reachable even with new technologies.

Think accuracy. Think reliability. Think remote site(s). Think support costs for O&M. Now tell me how $10/month will cover the costs and $1,500 will cover the equipment.

This isn't the situation where the ditch rider drives past the turnout in his truck and reads the meter on-the-fly with a ZigBee solution. Think of the metered site as being miles from the nearest telephone pole or in an area of spotty cell coverage. The site has to be monitored in real-time. No sir, $3-10/month doesn't cover it.

Just my opinion. dg

funyfarm manager said...

@Delbert Only in america

Like some above mentioned " I thought it was a developed country" well the usa is developed at the cost of EVERYBODY. I reffer to your Spotty cell phone coverage. Had the cell phone industry been regulated ( like CA is trying to regulate the water ) we would not have Spotty cell phone coverage. nuff said on that. I found this post while researching Water meters to use in an Irrigation system in my case 2" and under the problem i am finding as a small farm owner that has to supply my Irrigation district with a means to track my consumption. The Meters in this range are built for CLEAN water , Not the crap that i get pumped up from the columbia! YES they are expensive to run mud through to wear them out every 3 years ,,

@David thanks man i needed som comic relief ,,

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