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‘Smart’ city shuts off great-grandma’s water

By   /   July 9, 2013  /   News  /   37 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – Audrey Parker says she has paid her water bill on time for the past 20 years, but that didn’t stop the city of Baraboo from shutting off the great-grandmother’s water supply Tuesday.

The reason?

The 81-year-old Parker says it’s because she wouldn’t let the city replace her analog water meter with a new ‘smart meter’ – a battle she’s fought with City Hall for more than a year now.

“(Monday) I went to see the Mayor (Mike Palm). The cutoff day was this (Tuesday) morning and I thought the city might relent,” Parker told Wisconsin Reporter. “Yesterday they came and I wouldn’t let them in.”

City Hall vs. Grandma: Audrey Parker, 81, of Baraboo is fighting a one-woman battle against the city. The city shut off Parker's water Tuesday after she repeatedly refused the installation of a 'smart' water meter.

City Hall vs. Grandma: Audrey Parker, 81, of Baraboo is fighting a one-woman battle against City Hall. The city shut off Parker’s water Tuesday after she repeatedly refused the installation of a ‘smart’ water meter.

A little after 9 a.m. Tuesday, though, Parker left her house to go to the post office. When she returned she found a disconnect notice taped to her front door.

“I saw the blue flag marking the water line and I said, ‘Uh-oh,’” she said. “I thought they might have relented, but not this time. They’re trying to set an example of me.”

Parker received similar notices over the past year, but the city didn’t act on its threats.

Last September she went before the Baraboo Public Safety Committee to present her case to opt-out of the new meter.

Parker told the committee she’s had heart palpitations since the city installed ‘smart’ gas and electric meters outside her home in spring 2012, and that she had health and privacy concerns with the smart meter for her water.

And, she just doesn’t like the city telling her what to do inside her own home.

The committee denied the opt-out and gave Parker two weeks to allow the city to change the meter. Those two weeks turned into more than nine months.

Smart meters use radio frequency waves to send usage information between a utility customer’s home and their utility company. The high-tech gauges are a key link in the transition to the Smart Grid, the shared initiative of the federal government and the energy industry to modernize the nation’s electricity transmission and distribution system. There’s a lot of taxpayer money involved in a myriad programs to bring the Smart Grid and smart meters online.

The U.S. Department of Energy has spent at least $$2.96 billion on Smart Grid projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus.

The use of radio frequency, the technology used in microwaves, cell phones, Wi-Fi networks and baby monitors, has some, like Parker, concerned about the long-term health effects.

Opponents of the meters cite anecdotal evidence of a variety of health-related problems, from migraines and nausea to insomnia, seizures and heart problems. They point to studies on cellphones as evidence of the danger of the technology in smart meters. A New York Times article noted that “Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have found less than an hour of cellphone use can speed up brain activity,” raising questions about the health effects of low levels of radiation emitted from cellphones.

Parker says she won’t back down on refusing the smart meter, even if it means buying bottled water to drink and using rain barrel water to flush the toilet.

“I’ll get by without it,” the octogenarian said, noting she was raised on a farm without running water. “They’ve been heavy handed. They’re not acting like public officials, they’re acting like totalitarians. I don’t like to be threatened. I’m not going to buckle.

“I don’t think people buckled when they built this country,” she added.

Parker isn’t alone in her resistance.

In Illinois, two women were arrested for interfering with smart meter installation, according to KATU.com in Portland, Ore.  In Texas, a woman pulled a gun on a utility worker.

Baraboo city officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]


Ryan formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Matt Logan

    Given the complete absence of information on the ill effects of the smart meters already installed in Baraboo, one has to question the basis for this woman’s refusal to meet the requirements associated with obtaining water service from the city.

  • CNS74

    I suggest you do research into how the gov’t wants to use smart meters. Investor Business Daily just had an essay this week with regards to smart meters turning off your appliances at the gov’t’s will.It is an invasion of privacy. That is what the woman is really angry and concerned about – Progressive’s totalitarianism.

  • SamIamHis

    @ Matt Logan: Perhaps one has to wonder exactly how much invasion individuals will have to tolerate from the government? Do you really want the government monitoring your energy usage and making determinations as to what is proper or not in water, electric or gas consumption? I fear the possible medical consequences far less than I do government that is out of control in permeating every area of our lives. When will they install cameras in our homes and listening devices to be sure we are behaving and speaking according to the doctrines of political correctness? Right now our freedoms are dwindling at an alarming rate and these “smart” devices do not bring me any peace of mind. I applaud this woman for taking a stand against a government move that truly invades her privacy. We are so concerned with a woman’s right to privacy in this country that we kill innocent babies to preserve that but we will not protect the individual right to true privacy that this woman is begging for. Stay out of our homes, our communications, our vehicles and our lives!

  • chris smith

    thing happened to me. They sent me letter after letter and i said I
    WORK for a living, feel free to come on the weekend to replace it. They
    told me to take a ( ready for this) a vacation day. I got a letter
    saying they would shut it off if i didnt get it replaced. So one day i
    went into work late ( money out of my pocket) . When they turned the
    water off at the street they broke the valve trying to turn it off. They
    had to come back after destroying my yard and sidewalk ( their
    sidewalk). 6 hr job. Then i had to go into work late again when they
    got it fixed and could put in a meter. I should have let them shut it
    off and laughed as they broke the valve trying to do so.

  • Matt Logan

    As a matter of fact, I have dome my homework on this back in September when this story surfaced on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlkFzk0Ts98

    Baraboo is not controlling energy use at this time, so there is only paranoia that there might be a conspiracy to do so later, not real evidence. This woman is fighting for the freedom to let her paranoia control a city.

  • Matt Logan

    I am strongly in favor of charging customers more for their utility usage during peak hours, since those peak hours are what create the most costs for infrastructure. Current technology does not allow this. The principle of personal responsibility should apply to utilities provided to residents of a municipality, don’t you agree?

    As for your other accusations, they have not occurred, and I doubt they will – the only way I see a city turning off appliances is if people individually agree to allow smart meters to limit usage during peak hours. When Baraboo proposes to do this on an involuntary basis, this woman will have a case. Until that time, it is just paranoia.

  • SamIamHis

    Matt, I think you are a good person who genuinely trusts the government and the information that you have found available. I don’t have the same sense of trust. Call me paranoid but I have been around too many years not to recognize history being repeated. For too long the good people of the U.S.A. have complacently sat back and believed the simplistic explanations as to why our freedom’s are being taken away, inch by inch, and we have done nothing. This “Smart Meter” and “Smart Grid” may seem completely innocent and look like a good idea at first glance. So did the New Deal, Social Security, Medicare, the Patriot Act. In hindsight, much of what has been caused by each of the government ideas has not worked out well. I could include Obamacare but it is already proving to be such a disaster that it is hardly worth discussing. I will say that it is a huge invasion of privacy that has no reasonable end result except to turn us into cattle being herded for what looks like medical care but is actually an eventual stockyard depending on your stage of life.

  • Franseenit

    “Progressive” totalitarianism? You haven’t been paying much attention to the shenanigans in Washington and Madison much have you? Got to use those political buzzwords again.

  • Cecelia Henderson

    No it’s not just paranoia. “Peak” usage has always been normal because of normal work hours. Of course, now that 50% of the people don’t work, I guess you make a decent point. However, for the middle class working family, how do you not use peak hours? I feel that our government (local, state and federal) are actively violating our privacy and unless we stand up and fight, the invasion will continue to grow.

  • Lue Gill

    If EVERY CITIZEN in this town left this courageous woman a gallon of bottled water what a show of support it would be (not to mention how much it would help her!)

  • Dug Rhino

    WHY cant she pay a small surcharge and keep analogue, labor heavy method or maybe read it herself and phone it in ? ? with a verify check once or twice per year ? ? ?

  • Douglas D Eden

    PEAK usage is a legitimate NEED to be reduced as it stresses the infrastructure and causes damaged and overloads the system BUT I also believe the Peak is caused more by business and THEY should be paying the extra , but it also is less vital as more and more people are working third or second shifts and the
    peak is reduced that way ( except for lighting and air conditioning of businesses .) ANOTHER issue I have it companies leaving their lights full on over night , ? Its STUPID waste and if there are thieves in there they’d be MUST MORE nervous and scared away by darkness and using flashlights than well lit thieving spaces .

  • Douglas D Eden

    BULLSHIT ! ! ! ! THEY are in the position to prove NO harm , not her and all she needs is the common sense that her problems arose at the tiem those other meters were installed,

  • Roger M Olson

    Utilities whether public or private supply a good or service and must accurately measure what is delivered to ensure fair and correct billing. “Smart Meters” are not some “intrusive spy” but are meters with improved accuracy. The government dealing with this in these cases is the Public Service Commission which was formed after public outcry to ensure that utility charges and upgrades are fair, honest and in the public interest. Utilities must STRICTLY comply with water usage recording and with groundwater withdrawal permitting and need to correlate water usage with wastewater treatment. Over time analog meters lose their accuracy but are designed to UNDER-report usage when that happens which impacts all customers. Also, due to changes in laws regarding lead content meter construction has had to change. Analog meters are being completely phased out at the manufacturing level and replaced with electronic meters with no moving parts and it is becoming hard to support analog meters. Finally, a lot of the “smart systems” allow the utilities to see extreme over use which may be due to ruptured pipes for example and more than one homeowner has had damage limited by fast discovery of that. More research needs to be done on the use of RF devices but in most smart systems transmission is not constant but polled and exposure is slight. Unless one has an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator there have been no studies that have demonstrated heart rhythm interference at the low power levels used. More studies need to be done on these issues but a significant number of them have not found much. It depends on frequency and energy level as well as proximity to the radiating source. This is not government intrusion, invasion of privacy or issues involving freedom. It is measuring the delivery of goods and services to assess billing and make sure the infrastructure is working correctly.

  • Athena

    PSC code actually allows for precisely the kind of arrangement you’re talking about, Dug Rhino. And in fact, that’s how meters used to be handled on a regular basis. You filled out a postcard sort of thing and mailed it in. A meter reader would come every now and then to make sure things were on track.

  • Athena

    Roger, I would point you toward an industry presentation by Diane Ramthun, a lawyer for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, entitled “Regulatory Aspects of Smart Metering: United States Experience.” It’s easily obtainable on the web and demonstrates that, accuracy aside, even within the industry there is awareness of major, MAJOR issues with these meters.

  • jennamilan

    How does an overbearing government debate somehow always get turned into a “corporate” thing by environmentalists? Is it more or less efficient for 300 employees of a company to sit in one air conditioned space rather then have them unemployed and air conditioning their own homes individually? The argument is flawed at the face of it and in fact, the company is actually reducing overall energy consumption per capita since most people set their thermostats to uncomfortable levels while they are away from work for that type of energy. Energy required for production is another matter but as an environmentalist I’m sure you’ll then realize your attitude towards corporations and punishing them for producing things is “exactly” why they go elsewhere to have their products made.

  • gmw0583

    Great post Roger. Reasonable and good logic. I am predisposed to agree with you because I like technology and improvement.
    But one thing I see happening over and over again in the past 10 plus years is people have no right to say no to either Federal or local government. The city sees this woman as an obstacle to their grand plans. And they are willing to use intimidation to gain compliance. We see this with police officers, with medical personnel. We see it with National Park officials. Just don’t say “No.”
    How did this country survive all these years with so many independent and autonomous individuals? All those people running around free…..what a mess.

  • David Wells

    City installed one of these in my home after similar threats, Now most of my Radios will not work properly.

  • David Wells

    How about the Radio interference these Cause? My WIFI and radios all have issue since they Installed one of these meters in my basement. Maybe part of the plot. Block out AM radio signals and leave us only approved stations.

  • Matt Logan

    What “plot” are you referring to David?

  • Roggiedodgie

    I know Mrs. Parker. She is a brilliant woman, and has raised a wonderful bunch of children. I admire what she’s doing- and have to admit I would have taken the easy way out and just gone with the flow. It just shows that courage has no age limit. God bless you, Mrs. Parker- my prayers are with you!

  • Roggiedodgie

    No- one has to question the basis for forcing an untested idea; if there is an ABSENCE of information- one should question it all the more!

  • Matt Logan

    Ahh, but there is not an absence of information when it comes to the meters in use in Baraboo, which transmit for 1 minute every 4 hours with a power that would require years to emit the same amount of radition from a single minute of cell phone use, and therefore cannot be the cause of heart palpitations, cell or WIFI interruptions, or any of the other conspiracy theories floating out there.

  • chris smith

    Dont forget while they were putring in the meter they were writing tickets for water violations

  • chris smith

    I thought that to. How do we find her. Or should we just drop off 5 bucks at culligans

  • MI Patriot

    She may have won this round, but you just wait. The city’s next step will be to outlaw rainwater collecting. They just can’t stand the fact that she got one over on them. They’ll be out for blood now. Well, at least her rain water.

  • Conservative Spartan

    FIRST, please SHARE this situation and get as many people calling as you can. Now is the hour to bring widespread attention to the smart water meter bullying that is occurring and the fact that NO ONE is looking out for the consumer, INCLUDING the Wisconsin PSC, whose responsibility it is to do so. Helping Audrey and the Sheriffs helps us all.

    SECOND, please CALL AND/OR EMAIL BARABOO MAYOR MIKE PALM. Ask him if he thinks the optics are good for Baraboo in shamefully shutting off the water of elderly citizens with infirmities. Ask him if he knows that a tiny girl lives in one of those homes whose water has just been shut off. Ask him why he thinks it’s better policy for the city to engage in these kinds of bullying tactics than to work with residents to develop a reasonable smart meter opt-out. Be polite but firm.
    PHONE #: 608.355.2715
    EMAIL: [email protected]

    THIRD, please CALL AND/OR EMAIL BARABOO WATER AND SEWER UTILITIES SUPERINTENDENT WADE PETERSON. Ask him why he doesn’t think citizens should have a choice about the technology that is mounted in or on their homes. Ask him if an opt-out might not be a better plan than creating a public health issue and a public relations debacle for the City of Baraboo. Be polite but firm.
    PHONE #: 608.355.2740
    EMAIL: [email protected]

    FOURTH, consider also calling the three members of BARABOO’S PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSION, who unanimously dismissed Audrey’s appeal for an opt-out last September. Ask them whether they think denying Audrey an opt-out was wise, considering the increasing amounts of attention that will now be directed to Baraboo as a result of this water shut-off issue. Ask them if they think it’s acceptable to put Baraboo residents in the untenable position of having to accept unwanted technology or living without convenient access to the most basic human necessity in their home. Be polite but firm.

    PHIL WEDEKIND (Chair): 608.356.8147
    MICHAEL PLAUTZ: 608.355.7578
    TOM KOLB: 608.356.6080

    FIFTH, please CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS AND THE GOVERNOR and tell them you want to see legislation to ensure citizens can’t be trampled in this way by public or private utilities anymore.
    LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE: 1.800.362.9472
    GOVERNOR’S OFFICE: 1.608.266.1212

    FINALLY, please CALL the WISCONSIN PSC and ask them why they continue to refuse assistance to consumers in relationship to smart water meters. Politely insist that they start doing their job by insisting that consumers have choices, aren’t bullied, and enjoy the protections granted to them under existing PSC code, including but certainly not limited to a provision that allows for citizens to READ AND REPORT THE READINGS ON THEIR OWN METERS rather than have them broadcast wirelessly.

    In calling the PSC, politely insist that they note your complaint, even though it is not about your own utility. Ask who else to report the complaint to if they refuse to takedown your report of harassment and water shut-off of City of Baraboo residents. PHONE #: 1.800.225.7729.

  • chesterarthur

    These nuts who say we must ‘control’ and raise rates for ‘peak’ usage times are trying to lob off the lack of preparedness for demand by utilities on the public.It is clearly an invasion of privacy issue,as they must monitor use to control it.It is also one of the reasons so many power plants,for example,are being attacked by and eventually closed by the government’s regulators,they simply want control over your water and energy use.They won’t control the use by elites like the loony enviro-ex-vice-president,whose home uses 10 times the electricity of most homes while trying to settle his chakras.They won’t limit wasteful use by the child-in-chief with his energy wasting trips and golf outings.It’s phoney,it’s wasteful of public effort,it’s intrusive,it’s possibly harmful due to excessive radio emissions in people’s houses(also wastes energy producing the excessive radiation of radio waves),and it is the dream of enviro-fascists the world over.Just don’t limit them.

  • withavengeance

    Seems to me the Health Department would have something to say about this. Not having running water could become a major health issue. And it probably will.

  • Joe Harrison

    More Agenda 21. They are putting smart chips in appliances and will eventually be able to ration your power. They will be able to assign times for you to do laundry or run your AC. Land of the Free?

  • Not_Another_Voyeur

    How about emailing or testing a picture of the meter?

  • Ray66

    Great ethics by this lady. To all those who skoff at the future government control issu;, it reminds me of someone who puts off their roof repair because it’s not raining. History has shown mankind DOES do these types of things and mankind has paid dearly for it.

  • Soapbox Jill

    FCC radiofrequency limits do not protect from numerous biological effects shown in thousands of reputable studies. See 2012 BioInitiative Report for 1800+ recent studies. Earlier studies showing biological effects of non-thermal RF were gathered by U.S. military through Zory Glaser and can be viewed at Magda Havas site.

    RF is a class 2b (potential) carcinogen according to IARC. No one should be forced to have a meter on their home emitting RF into their home and property against their will.

    Even if the science were “not conclusive” (due to industry-funded studies) a utility should not be able to DECIDE FOR YOU and your family about the safety of a device that pulses/bursts RF 24/7. You can turn off a cell phone, or not even use one if you like. You should not be forced to have an RF meter in order to have utility service.

  • Lucius_Junius_Brutus

    “Baraboo city officials could not be reached for comment…”

    Typical punk non-response!

  • Wes Adams

    Maybe we should put in her in a home with all the other crazies. She is simply losing her mind. She should be happy she made it to 81 before she started seeing unicorns.

  • Brian A Delaney Sr.

    I will volenteer to drive to Baraboo and drive a sand point well in the basement for her if we take up a collection to pay for the materials!!