The city of Canal Winchester's ambitious project to upgrade residents' water meters is nearly half complete, but the new technology already is saving customers from unexpectedly high bills.

The new automated radio meters can detect leaks, allowing the city to notify residents within a few business days, Water Superintendent Joe Taylor said.

For example, he said, the system recently caught a massive leak in a vacant home.

"We found out that there was a 68,000-gallon leak," Taylor said. "We made contact with the owner and realtor and went over and shut the water off. Having the older meter, we wouldn't have caught it."

With the old meters, Taylor said, such a leak wouldn't have been found for another 28 days or longer; that could have cost the property owner nearly $6,000.

In this case, the bill was about $850.

The city began the five-year process of upgrading nearly 3,300 water meters in early 2017. The price tag on the project is $400,000.

Residents and businesses connected to Canal Winchester's water and sewer system will pay higher rates starting in 2021. The ordinances approved by City Council in September 2018 call for 2 percent increases in 2021 and 2022.

Currently, residential and business customers pay $6.33 for each 1,000 gallons of water used and $5.88 for each 1,000 gallons of sewer service.

The new schedule will bump water rates to $6.46 per 1,000 gallons in 2021 and $6.59 per 1,000 gallons in 2022. Sewer rates will increase to $6 and $6.12 per 1,000 gallons in those years, respectively.

The new advanced metering infrastructure meters record daily usage and use a radio signal to connect with information collectors stationed throughout the city, Taylor said. Each collector then uploads the data to a cloud system.

"We get a series of emails that we monitor daily, except on the weekends," Taylor said. "When we suspect something is wrong, probably 90 to 95 percent of the time it's a commode that's running."

That was the case for Councilman Mike Walker, who discovered a leaky toilet and more.

"I found a leak around the garden hose, too," he said.

"It might not sound like a lot, but a leaking toilet can get up to an extra $11 to $12 on your water bill. It just shows how those meters are a great benefit."

As new system components are installed, city workers need to access the exterior remote-reading equipment, Taylor said. In some cases, the staff will need to get into homes. In those cases, Taylor said, residents will be notified to set up an appointment.

The upgrades should take no longer than an hour to complete, he said.