In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Mary Gugliuzza, media relations & communications coordinator with Fort Worth Water, discusses the new online portal residents can use to track their water usage, and what new features residents can expect in the future.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For an unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Emily Wolf: To get us started, would you mind explaining what the Fort Worth MyH2O portal is?
Mary Gugliuzza: Certainly. The MyH2O portal is a place where customers can go and get information, they can pay their bill, but they can also see their water use. In the future, we plan to add some additional features to that for customers. But what’s available today is the ability to pay your bill online or just view your bill online.
The key difference, because we’ve had billing online for a long time, is that you can see your water use. And you can see it for the vast majority, there’s still a few 1,000 customers out there who can’t because of a supply chain shortage with radios. But for the vast majority of our customers, they can actually view their water use not just by the month, but by the day, or by the hour. So that’s something we’re really trying to make customers aware of.
You can see those hours of when that irrigation system kicks on and the impact it has on your water use. You can also see if you have a leak by looking at the data, because think about it, nobody uses water 24/7 at a home for the most part, right. So if you have water use recorded every hour of the day, that probably means you’ve got a leak somewhere. So there’s a lot of benefits to customers, if they’ll take the time to register, and then go monitor their water use.
Wolf: What sort of information should residents have on hand when signing up for the portal for the first time?
Gugliuzza: That depends on a couple of things. If they’ve already been using our system to pay online, there’s a new link, they go to the link, and it’s on our homepage. And when you log in for the first time, you will be redirected to reset a password. You don’t have to register anything. You just have to reset your password if you’re an existing online bill payer through our system. I do realize some people pay bills through their banks; that’s not going to apply. But if you pay through our system already, all you have to do is go to the new link, and then log in the same way you did through the old payment site, reset your password, you’ll get an email that you need to confirm you are who you are. And then you’ll be all set.
If you’re new to us in an online version, online format, if you’ve never used our portal before, you’ll need your account number and your cycle in route numbers from your water bill. Because we need to verify you are who you say you are. So that information is on the water bill. If customers don’t have it, they can call us and our customer service staff to get that information. But it is on the water bill. So we urge them to do that. Because the information really is invaluable.
Wolf: You mentioned some supply chain issues y’all have been having in regards to the equipment required for these portal readings. Can you talk a little bit about what equipment is required for measuring hourly daily water usage?
Gugliuzza: We have the meters and the new meters are in place. What the shortage is in, because of the computer chip issues that everybody is experiencing, are the radios that are attached to the meter that send the signal and send the data. So we don’t have the radios. As we get those in we’re going back and retrofitting them to the meters that are already in place. So that’s the supply chain issue. We’re just lacking radios for smart meters. In order for us to have that granular data of our early and daily water use. We are still having to read those meters manually right now.
Wolf: Do y’all have a timeline at this point for when residents should anticipate all of the radios coming in?
Gugliuzza: No, I don’t think we do. I’ll have to get back with you to find out if we do. I’m not aware of a timeline. We’re getting a few in, I think on a regular basis, but it’s just not the total volume that we need … But anyway … tomorrow’s not soon enough for us. And we want to be able to, we want customers to be able to have this, but we want to have all this data as well, because it helps us in managing our system. So it makes us more efficient, because we don’t have to send those trucks in the field and do manual water reads which, to be honest, can end up with human error of transposing numbers as you enter them manually. So we’re anxious for it to happen as well.
Wolf: And residents can still sign up for the portal, even if that radio hasn’t come in yet. Correct?
Gugliuzza: Absolutely, they can still sign up, because they can also set notifications on their bill under the new portal too. So that’s another feature that’s important, the notifications. And they can set it up, you know, on billing for thresholds based on dollars.
The one thing I want to caution folks about when it comes to setting the notifications on your bill amount is it’s just on the water use portion of the bill, not the bottom line number amount of the bill, because the bill has wastewater on it, the bill has environmental fees on it. It’s got stormwater fees, and it’s got trash on it. So those things are pretty constant every month. The water use is what varies. So the alerts you’re setting for usage are really based on water.
Another cool feature is we bill in 100 cubic feet or CCF. But you can in the portal select to see your usage in gallons. So if people can understand that better, they can change. When they click on that usage tab … there’s three little circles, and I realize it is hard to read but the middle circle is gallons and it converts your usage into gallons. So you can actually see that. So that might help some folks. Just understand we don’t bill in gallons. We bill in 100 cubic feet.
Wolf: What languages are available on the portal right now, and are there any plans to expand the language offerings?
Gugliuzza: Right now English and Spanish are the two that are available on the portal. I don’t know I’ll have to find out if down the road, we might expand. Those are the two that, you know, we obviously have the vast majority of our customers asking about and usually if there’s a language barrier for customers, to be honest, it is Spanish. I’m not saying there aren’t people who speak other languages out there. But at the moment, those are the two that are available. And I’m not aware, at the moment, of any immediate plans to add another language.
Wolf: And you mentioned up top that there’s going to be some new features rolled out in the coming months. Can you talk about what those features are and what residents can expect?
Gugliuzza: So I don’t have a timeline for it. But services that we want to add down the road would be the ability for customers to open and close accounts online to where they don’t have to call us, to be able to push messages out to customers through the portal when the need arises. So, there’s several things that we’re looking at. But those are a few of the things that we’re really trying to provide a few more self service options for our customers.
Wolf: And I think I saw something about being able to compare your water usage to other people.
Gugliuzza: I think you actually might be able to do some of that now … so on the portal, there is one important thing to be able to compare. You want to be able to compare (usage) to something comparable, right? I mean, I live in a house that’s about 1,000 square feet and has one bathroom, but a lot of folks live in, you can’t compare that usage to a house that’s, you know, 2,500 square feet, and has two or three bedrooms and bathrooms.
Under the My Account tab, you go to About My Home tab. And it asks you questions about your home. And so that’s going to be very important to have that information completed, to get a better comparison of your water use when that feature is available to others. So I encourage folks to go out and complete the information about their home.
I think you can add a guest user to the account, as well. So whoever the bill is, it’s in their name, they can delegate to someone else the ability to and they can also revoke that access as well. So that’s one of the features that’s out there.
You can also change the homepage slightly in the view, we don’t currently have all the little tabs filled in if you look, there’s some blank spaces when you log in. But we’re hoping to add things down the road to help fill that in. But you know, one of those widgets is a graph of your water use. And under the My Account in main settings, there’s a couple of different views that you can have two or three different views you can share, and one of them makes that usage graph bigger.
The one thing I also want to point out because I think to be honest, it gets kind of lost. But if you go to the billing tab and look at your bill, you’re going to see things lined out in the way that your printed bill is. And by the way, you can still view a PDF of your printed bill as well.
If you scroll down to the bottom of that page, you can still see the bill (certifications). So even though you’re not getting a printout if you’ve elected to go electronic, and you don’t get the printed bill, we still do bill certs, so you can see what those are and see the bill message that’s on the city’s website. It takes you to a link there where we update that every month and you can see the past two or three bills. I think we keep three months worth of the previous information up on that website. So you can see those things. And there’s also a link to our water quality reports online, so if someone wants to pay in a way other than online, there’s also a link to our payment locations, which we’ve only got the one that we operate downtown. But Fidelity Express is another in person payment option for folks and paying by phone through our phone system is also an option. So anyway, we’ve tried to make and keep the information readily available for folks. And you can see past bills as well. By the way, it’s not just the current bill. There’s a history out there on the website.