Angie Sovak’s eyes widened when she opened her Eden Prairie water bill on Dec. 8, 2023.
The total was over $300 more than the same period from 2022. “It was, like, this can’t be right,” she said. “There’s got to be a mistake.”
She called the city utilities department and received a quick but surprising response. “There is water running 24 hours a day in your house,” the caller said. “It’s probably a toilet running.”
Sovak went to check her home’s rarely used downstairs bathroom, and sure enough, it was running non-stop. “I quickly turned the water off and called my husband,” she said.
Her next step was to take the city caller’s suggestion to download the EyeOnWater app provided to all residents whose water meters have been replaced over the past two years.
“When I opened the app, at the top it said we had a leak,” she said. Later that day, Sovak received a notification that the leak had stopped.
Based on data recorded in her app, the leak started on July 29, about four months after the new meter had been installed. “So, it (was) four months,” she said with a sigh. “Water has been running just over four months.”
According to the app, Sovak’s household — including her husband Brett, daughter Amelia, 11, and son Oliver, 8 — was using an average of almost 1,000 gallons of water daily. Their typical usage is less than 100 gallons, well below the city average for a household their size.
Sovak remembers the installer leaving a piece of paper behind with information about the EyeOnWater app. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s good, I need to download that,” Sovak said. “And then I set the paper over here,” she said, pointing to her kitchen counter. “And then I’m sure it got put in the recycling, and I just never thought of it again.”
When she eventually did download the app, she recognized its usefulness.
“I hadn’t even downloaded the app for a full 24 hours and got the alert (that the leak had stopped), and we would have been taken care of right away,” she said. “Get the app!”
The fix completed by her husband cost $8, she added with a wry smile.
Water meter replacement challenges
Upgraded water meters have been installed in about 15,400 Eden Prairie residences since spring 2021, according to Rick Wahlen, the city’s utilities operations manager. That’s about 78% of the approximately 19,000 residential meters to be installed.
There are 2,800 pending appointments for installation. As of Jan. 2, 940 people have not responded to repeated attempts to schedule appointments, according to HydroCorp, the water meter installer. These attempts included mailings, phone calls, and door hangers, Wahlen said.
“I wish we could ask everyone to please open the letter when they get it,” Wahlen said. “But the problem we have with our notification system is that half of the people don’t read anything they get from us.”
The original plan was to complete all installations by 2025, Wahlen said, but he said the last time they did a meter exchange it took closer to 10 years.
The installation itself generally takes less than an hour. When installers finish their work, they leave homeowners a sheet of paper with instructions on how to download and use the app.
Part of the problem, Wahlen admits, is that residents are told to wait three weeks before downloading the app. Just as Angie Sovak did, some misplace or lose the instructions or forget about it before those three weeks are up.
When a water meter is installed in the home, it immediately begins measuring water use, but it isn’t yet able to send data for the app, Wahlen said.
“(The meter) converts (water flow) information through a magnet into a digital signal that goes into a device that’s mounted higher on the wall so it can speak to a cell phone system,” Wahlen said. “And that electronic device has to be activated. So, when the (installer) comes to your house, he’s got a water meter that works but a communicator that doesn’t.”
The installer uses an activation process similar to that of a new cell phone, ensuring the device is able to turn itself on.
The data from that process is then sent digitally to city hall where it is uploaded into a computer system and entered into the city’s billing software.
“Then it has to be reviewed to make sure it’s correct before we allow it to be implemented because we don’t want mistakes to be made and people get a $2,000 water bill when somebody put a zero in the wrong place,” Wahlen said.
From there, the information is sent to the finance and billing consortium, Lotus, which manages the city’s billing system.
“So, there’s a time delay,” he said. “And that’s what the three weeks are all about.”
Another issue is that when signing up for EyeOnWater, residents need to have their eight-digit customer number – not their account number. Customer numbers are on bills sent to residents, but many residents have set up paperless billing, so they don’t receive a paper bill by mail.
“If (residents) do not have access to either of those (numbers), they can just call us,” said Mahogany Shaffer, the city’s utility billing accountant. “I am able to walk them through the setup, as well, in case they have questions.”
Residents should call 952-949-8382, Shaffer said.
Many Eden Prairie residents don’t pay much attention to their water bill, Whalen said.
That is, until they get a bill for hundreds of dollars more than the previous one, Shaffer added.
“This summer was one of the hotter ones,” Shaffer said. “We really haven’t had a summer like this in quite some time, and the water usage was quite a bit higher. A lot of residents having access to EyeOnWater were able to see exactly how much irrigation systems were putting out so that they could modify (them) to cut down on their bills. A lot of people aren’t aware that (their) irrigation system can put out almost 6,000 gallons of water a day.”
EyeOnWater is an app that lets you connect to your water utility account to see how much water you’re using and can alert you to possible leaks.
Only 16% of the residences that have received new meters have downloaded and activated the EyeOnWater app, Wahlen said.
The app provides real-time data on how much water has been consumed that day. It also breaks down usage by month, week, date and time of day.
Viewed on an iPhone, the app’s home page displays a message indicating whether a leak has been detected. It also tells you if you have used more or less water in the current week than the previous one. At the bottom is a graph comparing the current and previous week’s usage.
Inside the app you can view information in a calendar format to identify daily and monthly trends and in graph form for detailed usage information per day and hour-by-hour.
A savings calculator suggests methods of saving water, including fixing leaking toilets, installing high-efficiency toilets, repairing dripping faucets, and taking shorter showers.
The utilities department does have a monitoring mechanism to identify large water leaks, Wahlen said. But that doesn’t kick in until the system sees a continuous flow of at least 10 gallons per minute for 24 consecutive hours.
Because Angie Sovak’s running toilet didn’t reach the 10-gallon per-minute threshold (it was actually about a gallon per minute), the city doesn’t have a system that would alert either the homeowner or the utilities department of the leak, Wahlen acknowledged.
That makes EyeOnWater the best early warning system for residents to be alerted to a water leak that might be relatively small but can add up to hundreds of dollars in their water bills over time, he said.
You can set up EyeOnWater to notify you by email or text message if a leak reaches a certain level by following instructions on the app’s website.
“We’re kind of new at this sort of thing, too,” Wahlen said. “We’re thinking that as everyone receives these new meters and we get a more clear picture of what our time allocation is going to be for labor, we’re going to spend a couple times a month going through bills and looking for things that just seem way out of character and then notifying those people hoping that we can help them avert a huge water bill down the line.”
Eden Prairie water use
Eden Prairie’s 326 miles of underground water mains – the largest of which is 3 feet in diameter – is capable of delivering large volumes of water – city residents consumed 22 million gallons on a peak day in the summer of 2022 and 18.1 million gallons on July 21, 2023, Wahlen said.
The system gets a bit of a rest during winter when usage is in the 4 million gallons per day range.
Those water mains are fed by 15 wells drilled to an average depth of 398 feet into the Jordan Aquifer, according to the city’s website. Those wells produce an average flow of 1,300 of water each minute. When all are pumping at the same time, they can deliver up to 26 million gallons in a day.
Every person in Eden Prairie uses an average of 82 gallons of water every day, Wahlen said.
The city’s park department alone used more than 68 million gallons to irrigate city parks in 2022.
The water meter conspiracy theory
Wahlen smiles upon hearing about social media posts suggesting that some residents, after getting their new meters, believe their water usage and bills have increased.
“It’s the same style of meter that they had before, so it’s not like we’re putting some secret technology in,” he said. “People forget that the only way that meter can move is for water to displace it. It can’t move unless there’s water moving. Also, it can’t move faster when a little bit of water pushes against it. You can’t nudge it and make it free spin because it’s totally surrounded by water, and water has to get out of the way in order for it to move into the next position.
“So, the only way for the water meter to read more water use is for more water to pass through the metering apparatus.”
Anyone with questions about their water bill should call 952-949-8382.
Wahlen is proud that the daily water usage in Eden Prairie has declined by more than 25% since he joined the city’s utilities department. But he believes there’s still room to improve. “When I first came here in 2006, we were at about 110 (gallons of water per person per day),” he said. “Now we’re at 82. And I think we can do even better.”
Angie Sovak is not happy about the water wasted due to a leak in her home, yet she appreciates having EyeOnWater installed on her phone to monitor her family’s water use. She encourages others to do the same.
Even so, she said, “It hurts my green little heart just a little bit.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that HydroCorp is the water meter installer. Badger Meter is the manufacturer.
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.