Riverside trustees on Jan. 21 voted unanimously to approve the construction of a 100-foot tall communications tower at the Riverside Public Works Department property in Riverside Lawn.

On the drawing board for almost a full year, erecting the tower will be the first step in Riverside initiating a multiyear, village-wide water meter replacement program and implementing a fixed-point meter reading system that will help residents more closely monitor their water usage and spot leaks quickly.

The tower itself won’t be installed until late spring or early summer, and the water meter program won’t begin rolling out until 2022, said Public Works Director Dan Tabb. 

Now that the village board has approved the special use permit needed to build the tower, Tabb will ask the village board later this month to waive competitive bidding and enter into a contract with Oak Forest-based Urban Communications to shepherd the tower through the proper channels, obtaining FCC licensing and constructing it.

In time, the tower will be equipped with two antennae, one to provide point-to-point communication across the river between the Public Works Department and village hall and the other to read water meters.

The last time the village upgraded its water meter reading system and replaced meters was between 2004 and 2006. That initiative replaced manual meter reads with a radio unit that was placed in a vehicle and driven past properties, digitally reading individual meters along the way.

A Riverside public works employee to this day drives through the village monthly getting readings for half the town’s water meters on each trip. While it’s a definite improvement over manual readings, it still takes three hours to read the meters and up to a week to complete the follow-up reports, said Tabb.

The new fixed-point system will allow the village to read all water meters in Riverside up to four times a day and generate daily reports that can flag abnormal water usage. The village can then immediately reach out to customers to let them know about unusual usage and give them an opportunity to quickly fix any problems.

Because meters in each half of the village are now read every other month, said Tabb, costly leaks can go undetected for up to two months before they’re caught.

Tabb said he did not know exactly what the final cost to replace all of the village’s water meters will be. When Riverside implemented its initiative in 2004, the cost ran to about $800,000. That was without a tower and meter-reading antenna.

As for the meters themselves, it’s likely the cost will be passed along to water customers as a line item on their bills. In 2004, a meter cost customers $234, which they could either pay for at once or in installments.

Public works hired special crews on a temporary basis to handle meter replacements specifically during the three-year rollout.