New meter reading vehicle points to more efficiency at Portland Water District


That different looking vehicle you may see driving slowly through your neighborhood represents the Portland Water District’s (PWD) latest step toward financial efficiency and good environmental stewardship, a commitment that dates back 20 years.

The PWD’s new meter-reading cruiser, an electric-powered Ford Mustang Mach-E, has a range of 211 miles a day and is rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as attaining 100 miles per gallon in city driving.

Better yet, the all-wheel drive vehicle was highly affordable – it cost $32,399 when purchased last spring – and the expectation is it will cost $150 a year in maintenance, compared to $650 a year for a typical, gas-powered SUV or pickup.

Combining premier gas mileage and reduced maintenance, the water district expects to save $1,000 annually. The meter reader and his vehicle travel 1,600 miles monthly.

While saving money is important to the water district and its customers, that’s only half of the equation.

“Our mission is to protect public health, safety, and the environment,” said Josh Hudak, facilities manager for the Portland Water District, who oversaw the vehicle’s purchase and implementation.

“We are committed to environmental stewardship and continuous efforts to become more sustainable,” stated Chris Crovo, director of asset management and planning. “Part of our effort over the years has been to become less reliant on fossil fuels.”

Big moved toward efficiency

Perhaps the biggest single step toward achieving both goals – saving millions of dollars over the years, and burning much less gasoline – came in 2005, when the water district converted from manual meter reading to an automated approach.

Prior to then, the water district employed seven full-time meter readers who each drove separate pickup trucks to read customers’ water meters. The employees would walk to each meter, on every house, and touch each touchpad. Meter reading back then took a month to complete. Water district staff drove over 100,000 miles a year.

That has all changed. Initially, the district switched to drive-by, automated meter reading using specially equipped vehicles that received unique radio transmissions for each water district customer. That information was transferred into the PWD’s information system, and an individualized bill was produced. Later hybrid vehicles were used during this process, and they served their purpose well.

The Mustang Mach-E, however, represents the later, major step forward. The Portland Water District’s commitment to common-sense environmental protection continues in other ways as well.

Crovo explained that in recent years, two of the organization’s largest facilities were converted to natural gas for all operations, both to save money and to lessen their carbon footprints. Also through a consortium, 14% percent of electricity now comes from solar sources.  Annually the water district spends approximately $2.1 million in electricity costs, and participation in this partnership will save ratepayers $967,400 annually once fully operational. Currently, the water district is looking at battery storage at its East End Wastewater Treatment Facility to reduce peak energy demands which will further improve reliability and cost savings.

The Mustang Mach-E is working well thus far, Crovo said, and as technology improves, the district will consider replacing its entire fleet of vehicles with electric options.

“Financial efficiency, environmental stewardship, and appropriate investment in infrastructure are all important attributes of a well-run organization like the Portland Water District,” stated General Manager Seth Garrison.


Photo caption: Control Center Operator Joe Hannigan stands with the Mustang Mach-E.


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