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Debates Ebb & Flow Over Smart Water Meters

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019 9:00 am

When the Running Springs Water District began its Smart Water Meter program, some residents expressed concern over possible adverse health effects that may result from exposure to Radio Frequency (RF) Radiation.

Smart meters, which record the amount of water, electricity or other products consumed over time, differ from traditional meters in that they are electronic and can communicate with a central computer system. They “talk” to the central systems using RF transmissions, based on cell phone, pager, satellite, radio, power line, Wi-Fi or Internet communication, according to an article in the March/April 2012 issue of Electric Light & Power magazine. Internet and cell phone applications are preferred options due to their flexibility and ease of deployment.

In the past, deployments of Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems in some states were completed with little publicity. Consumers often were not aware that an RF transmitting meter had been installed at their house.

A primary public concern is the belief that RF emissions from smart meters are harmful to human health.

When a Running Springs resident contacted the Mountain News about the issue, we soon learned that it is not just a local problem. Concerns have been raised nationwide, and many studies have been conducted to determine the extent of possible threats to health. Most studies conclude that RF Radiation exposure is minimal and is less threatening than use of a cell phone, Wi-Fi, a microwave oven or a cordless phone.

Among the notable studies are those by the California Council on Science and Technology, American Cancer Society, Environmental Health Trust, World Health Organization and many others.

Paul Bender of Running Springs shared with the Mountain News his concerns, which he brought to his local water district. “My wife, Rita, and I cited health reasons and presented numerous documents of studies listing the major diseases and conditions that RF radiation can cause. I told them that I have a heart arrhythmia condition, Atrial Fibrillation that is proven to be exacerbated by radio frequency radiation. We also mentioned that both of us are having symptoms such as sudden headaches, sleep problems, ringing in the ears, trouble concentrating, anxiety and a couple other things that just started happening out of the blue and that are called out as symptoms of RF exposure.”

Bender provided to the Mountain News one of the letters he sent to the Running Springs Water District along with the marketing information from the water meter company, an American Cancer Society document, general information from the utility industry dated 2013, an industry marketing consultant presentation dated 2012, the district’s handout entitled “No Health Threat from Smart Meters” and a sample opt-out request form.

“I thought if I could get an ‘opt-out’ exemption, that would set the precedent for others to apply if they are bothered by these things,” Bender said. “I didn’t expect the Running Springs Water District Board to consider our ‘opt-out’ request without a fight let alone accommodate our wishes.”

Bender’s neighbors also got an opt-out exemption because their water meter is in the same location. “The opt-out exemption really was quite easy to get,” Bender said, “but then again I wasn’t asking for a full-blown public program either.”

Setting a precedent and establishing a full-blown public program were unnecessary. The Running Springs district was able to grant Bender’s request because California is one of only a few states with guidelines enabling utility companies to address customers’ concerns.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) had already ordered the implementation of a postponement list for customers who request that a smart meter not be installed.

As far back as February 2012, the CPUC ordered Pacific Gas & Electric to implement an analog meter opt-out option that other utility companies also use.

Opt-out programs require the customer to pay a meter exchange fee of approximately $100 to replace the AMI meter with a manual read meter. Thereafter, they pay a monthly meter reading fee (which varies by location) in addition to the existing electric utility charges.

Bender said his agreement allows him to read his own meter for five months. “Then the district reads it on the sixth month and charges us $17.50. As long as we don’t get behind on our water bill we can keep the exemption.”

The concerns have been alleviated at the Bender home, but Paul Bender wants to push the water district to issue an informative newsletter about the opt-out program. “I do believe it is our right to be able to protect ourselves and our families from harm and although the mainstream media is not reporting it, more and more people, counties and states are becoming aware of the dangers of RF Radiation.”

Ryan Gross, the general manager of the Running Springs Water District, was not available for comment prior to the newspaper deadline. The district is located at 31242 Hilltop Boulevard in Running Springs. Call (909) 867-2766 during regular hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Heidi Fron can be reached at

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