Star-K Meets with Government Officials to Advocate Shabbos Compliant Water Meters


water-metersAs long ago as 2008, STAR-K engineering consultant, Jonah Ottensoser, started following the articles in the news dealing with the installation of radio transmitters on water meters in various cities throughout the U.S. The device, they said, would transmit users’ exact water usage to an automated billing system, several times a day. It would do away with estimated bills, allowing users to pay for only the water they actually use, and provide an early warning notice of potentially expensive leaks before they become a problem. A few weeks ago, when Mr. Ottensoser read an article in the Baltimore Sun describing problems regarding the reading of local water meters and large bills due to estimated reading, he thought to himself: the time is coming soon.

Although the installation of these high-tech water meters was meant to solve problems, for Orthodox Jews living in cities like Baltimore, Lakewood, and New York, they would only create new ones– whenever the sink would be turned on or the toilet would be flushed, on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

“Water meters may not feature any electronic display that changes as a result of water usage,” notes Mr. Ottensoser. “This requirement applies whether the display is covered or uncovered. However, displays that are blank until activated with a switch are acceptable.  Full time Readable displays are limited to dials or numbers on a wheel that are mechanically powered by a water turbine. Information may be stored internally by the device in electronic format provided that water usage does not activate any visible electrically powered indicators.”

In an effort to avert these potential problems for the Baltimore Orthodox community, STAR-K requested a meeting with the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, as advised by Mr. Ottensoser. Within hours of contacting 5th District Councilwoman Rikki Spector, a July 28th meeting was arranged at which Mr. Ottensoser and STAR-K president, Dr. Avrom Pollak, could meet with and explain the new water meter problem to Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ director, Alfred H. Foxx.

Councilwoman Spector, herself, attended the hour-long meeting, along with: Rudolph S. Chow, bureau head of Baltimore’s Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Water and Wastewater, Marcia Collins, Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ legislative liaison-office of the director, Gary S. Poretsky, community liaison-office of Councilwoman Rikki Spector, and Betsy Gardner, the Northwest liaison-Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods.

These are the requirements for usage monitoring in water meters that were explained at this meeting:

  • Meters may not feature an electronic display that is always visible and changes as a result of water usage. Concealing such a display with an obstructing material does not satisfy this requirement.
  • Electronic displays that remain blank until activated with a switch are compliant.
  • Full time readable displays are limited to dials or numbers on a wheel that are mechanically powered by a water turbine.
  • Information may be stored internally in electronic format provided that water usage does not activate any electrically powered indicators.

“I walked out of the meeting with a good feeling,” says Mr. Ottensoser. “Councilwoman Spector helped present our concerns, strongly and clearly supporting them. Everyone understood the problem and showed sincere interest; they committed themselves to working with us to incorporate our requirements.  I am optimistic that we can achieve success.

“The next step is to write our requirements to be included in the city RFP when they go out for bids,” continues Mr. Ottensoser.  “We have already submitted a draft specification.  Commercial meters will probably start to be replaced in the next 1-2 years and in residential settings, in the next 2 – 4 years.  We have the advantage of getting on board early, so it should not cost any more to install the meters we need.  Retrofit would be expensive.”

Mr. Ottensoser has been in contact with Lakewood Municipal Utilities, to discuss this issue. “Lakewood is in the midst of a 100 unit trial,” says Mr. Ottensoser.  “I believe in the next five years every water meter in the country will have this issue.  All meters will be changed to remote reading access, which can easily lead to digital displays.

“While I would be naïve to believe that politics does not play a role, I noted no sense of disrespect to our requirements,” notes Mr. Ottensoser. “To the outsider, our concern for digital writing could seem rather strange.  No such comments were made or implied.”

In fact, the day after the meeting, Mr. Ottensoser received this email:

Mr. Ottensoser,

It was a pleasure meeting with you to discuss the concerns of the Jewish community.  As stated in the meeting, I think we have a little time to work as partners to address these issues systematically.

And thanks for the contact person in New Jersey.

Al Foxx

A few days later, STAR-K received this email:

Please accept my sincere appreciation for the time and effort you put into making the meeting a success.  Your willingness to be open and accessible to constituent concerns makes me proud to have you as partners in moving the City forward.

If I can be of further help on this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Rikki Spector

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  1. Oy gevalt!
    Just today my meter was changed to the new type here in Lakewood.
    Does this mean “no water” for Shabbos???


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