The shape of your water bill: New online portal tracks usage

By Tate Mikkelsen

Water usage will no longer be a mystery for Lexington residents, with the city’s release of an online portal to track water consumption.  

Thomas Wagner is the engineer technician behind the portal. Photo Credit: Thomas Wagner.

At last Thursday’s city council meeting, city engineer Thomas Wagner presented the 24/7 monitoring portal, which he said he hopes will empower the public to better keep track of its water usage.  

“You get a lot of people that call and they don’t quite understand that a leaking toilet can really create a big issue for you,’’ Wagner said. “And usually, people don’t pay attention to their [water usage] until they get their bill.”  

According to a city news release, the “easy-to-use” analytics should help consumers “save money, protect property and stay informed.”  

Mary Bleech, a barista at Pronto Caffé & Gelateria, said she is interested in sustainability and would like to learn more about the portal. 

“In America, consumption is crazy compared to other countries,” Bleech said. “We need to see how much water we’re using for, like, a 10-minute shower.”  

City Council Member Marylin Alexander said she is excited to have this data readily available. 

“I manage a multifamily apartment property, and we would love to resolve some water use mysteries,” she said.  

Wagner said people can set up water usage goals online. If they go over the limit, the system will send out an alert and residents can log in online to track any irregularities. The portal will also give users information about average temperature and rainfall.  

Both Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute chipped in to build the program and began using it to track their water use in the fall.  

Karen Paulk, director of W&L’s facilities office, said the university is still integrating the portal. She said her office plans to finish installing the system university-wide by March. 

“It still has some limits on the use of it,” she said. She added that W&L is a relatively large campus compared to the intended user of the program.  

Brendan Perry, the VMI energy manager, said the program has helped control the institute’s utility costs.  

 “We have actually already found a few leaks and dealt with them using the system and the notifications that it can automatically generate,” he said. “I actually have yet to get all of our accounts set up on it, so it will be of more use in the future.” 

Perry also said that before the portal, he was researching how to map data from individual water meters in each VMI building. He said the methods he was considering would have cost the institute several thousand dollars per meter period, while the portal is free to use. 

Paulk said students and citizens alike are responsible for water conservation.  

“The water portal lets us see the amount of water going out overtime for each meter,” she said. “[Conservation] would be at the people level.”