A bird? A plane? What is it, anyway?

[attach]5352[/attach]The next time you’re going for a stroll in Sandy Bruce Park, you may notice the arrival of a tall metal pole, with a solar cell on top and a mysterious box below.

No, it’s not something the government installed to communicate with aliens.

In fact, the object is actually a self-powered data collection unit that uses solar energy to communicate with residents’ water meters and monitor consumption.

The unit is part of the city’s mandatory water meter program, which began in 2009. Completion is expected by 2015.

As a result, all new water accounts with the city, both business and residential, will have automated meters, which will result in a more accurate water-measuring system.

“It will also help Toronto Water capture true revenue for every drop of water consumed and will as well help us to detect losses in the system,” said Toronto Water’s director of operational support, Alex Marich.

The data collection unit will save the city money as it eliminates the need for an employee to read the meter and will fix the problem of residents who do not yet have a meter installed, and pay a flat rate for water.

Although the unit isn’t in operation yet, it is expected to come online in the new year. Ward 26 councillor John Parker was pleased to see technology used in a manner that benefits taxpayers.

“It’s somewhat quaint that we still live in a world where you have a meter reader coming around door to door gathering information, when there are so many other ways of doing it more accurately, quickly and less obtrusively,” Parker said. “That was the only way available to us previously, we have alternatives now, so I’m glad to see that the alternative are being pursued.”

He said the data collection unit is a good example of the government finding true efficiencies in the system.

“Reducing costs doesn’t have to mean reducing levels of service, if we find better, more efficient ways of doing things,” he said. “If we can save some money in the way we read our meters, then that’s taxpayer resources that are then freed up to be put to work more productively somewhere else, and I think that’s what we all want.”

The new system is also expected to help the city detect leaks in the system. No personal information is transferred via the data collection unit — the central computer identifies the customer and consumption data through numerical values.

By the end of 2012, residents should be able to monitor their water consumption online. For more information, visit [url][/url]