Getting Informed About Technology—Badger Water Meters

September 4, 2015

Katie Singer


According to our Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “harmful

interference” refers to anything that interferes with existing radio

or TV broadcasts and cellular or Internet services. The definition has

never included biological harm.

Uncountable electronics have flourished under this regulation.

Meanwhile, no federal agency studies the non-thermal effects of

exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted by electronics.

FCC regulations do not consider the long-term or chronic effects of

EMR exposure on pregnant women, infants, children, people with medical

implants or wildlife. Regulations do not consider the effects of EMR

exposure from multiple sources. (While the EPA has authority to study

EMR exposure on the public health and environment, since 1996,

Congress has granted it a budget of zero.)

Meanwhile, during these past two decades, municipalities around the

world have significantly increased their deployments of new

technologies. For example, utilities have installed wireless

transmitting meters for water, gas and electricity. Santa Fe’s utility

is no “different.”

Concerned citizens must therefore rely on their own research to

determine their exposure threshold and to find ways to reduce their

EMR exposure in a nearly saturated environment.

In June, 2015, our public utilities department began replacing

Firefly water meters with Badger water meters. The department aims to

identify leaks, which claim a significant percentage of water use. The

Badger meters will help with this goal. As I understand, the Badger

meters are programmed to transmit water use data via a text message

every day. While each transmission may take less than one minute,

transmitting water use data from 34,000 Badger meters to our public

utility will take about four hours.

How are Firefly and Badger meters different?

To send data, Fireflies require a person driving by the meter once

per month with a hand-held reader to collect the meter’s data. Firefly

batteries expectedly last ten years. To transmit their data, Firefly

meters do not engage cell towers.

Badger meters engage cell towers. They operate in a radiofrequency

range that could interrupt medical implants. Children certainly should

not sit or play on them. If a Badger meter detects a leak, it will

transmit an alarm to the utility via the nearest cell tower, perhaps

like a constant text message. Badgers also alarm when their batteries

expire, possibly every year or two.

How do Fireflies and Badgers compare in terms of EMR emissions? To

find out, we’d need independent measurements taken over several days.

Badger meters do not comply with FCC rules in several ways:

  1. The FCC license for Badger’s transmitters requires each one to be

kept at least 20 centimeters from all persons. Stepping on a water

meter lid would have you closer to it than 20 cm.

  1. The FCC requires meter manufacturers to provide people who are

exposed to the meter awareness of their exposure and means of insuring

safety, perhaps by a label or by distributing information. Badger has

not provided labeling nor information.

  1. The FCC’s license for use of Badger’s transmitters prohibits

transmitters from being installed beside each other. But around Santa

Fe, water customers with multiple units or guest houses (for examples)

have co-located meters–visible by two or even three warts on one

water meter lid.

These raised bumps could also create a hazard for people in wheelchairs.

In a full-page ad in the August 30 New Mexican, the City’s Water

Conservation Office announced its Badger installation project, which

will allow customers to “monitor daily water use.” At a time when

climate scientists insist we need to reduce our energy consumption by

8-10% annually, how much more electricity will Badger data require?

(According to Greenpeace’s Gary Cook, if data centers [which require

air conditioning] were a country, they’d rank fifth in consumption of


Once leaks are identified, could Santa Fe’s utility department

program the Badgers so that they transmit data weekly, bi-weekly or

monthly? Asked another way, once leaks are identified, what would be

the purpose of transmitting data daily? In Golden, Colorado, for

example, water use data is collected only four times per year.

Santa Fe’s public utility department will grant anyone who does not

want a Badger meter and would like to retain a person-read meter an

“opt-out.” If you’ve already got a Badger meter, you may also request

an opt-out. The public utility department will remove the Badger meter

and replace it with a person-read meter.

To request an opt-out of the Badger meter, email Diana Catanach,, or phone her at 955.4364. Simply tell

her your address and that you would like to opt out of the Badger meter.

Currently, our public utilities department will not charge a fee for

opt-outs. This policy could change–although many utilities, including

the NM Gas Co. and the Eugene, Oregon Water and Electric Board, do not

charge for opt-outs.

For more information about transmitting utility meters, please visit

my website’s intro packet on “smart” meters:


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