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Water loss drains ratepayers

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By Cindy Simpson

Water loss in aging utility systems is a growing concern.

Rockwood is putting water losses at a costly 35 percent of what it produces, but Kingston and Harriman have dealt with them, too.

Of them all, Kingston seems to have made the quickest turnaround.

City Manager Jim Pinkerton, who is also over the city’s water department,  said 10 years ago the water loss was as high as 50 to 60 percent of the water treated.

“We were lucky enough we found some areas where we found some leaks and we patched the leaks. We’ve been very fortunate on the issue for a number of years,” Pinkerton said.

“We’ve gotten it down to 13 percent,” Pinkerton said. “That puts it in the range where it is, I wouldn’t say it’s negligible, but it puts it in the category where the state essentially says you are doing as well as you can,” Pinkerton said.

Repairing water tanks, replacing old meters and better documentation of use, such as that at city facilities, has helped  city officials address its water losses.

Harriman and Rockwood are looking closely at Kingston’s solutions.

In fact, part of Harriman’s reasoning for the first water-rate increase in several years was because of the need to deal with the utility’s more than 35-percent water loss.

“The water loss was in excess of 50 percent when we started. It is now 38 percent, so progress is being made,” said Buddy Holley, the council representative to the board.  

“The good news is — because of our efforts the water loss is on the decline,” HUB manager Bill Young told the Harriman City Council.

Young said the state has set a goal of no more than 35 percent.

“We want to do better than that as we move forward,” he said.

In addition to water line repairs, other projects in the system are being discussed to help identify and alleviate the water loss issue.

Young came to council recently to talk about projects to be funded with state revolving funds, a mixture of loan and grant monies.

Among the Harriman Utility Board’s plans is to replace the meters in the system, including resizing some.

Officials say some meters are designed to read at a certain flow, but at a lower flow, the meter doesn’t document that use.

Harriman City Councilman Lonnie Wright asked recently if controlling water loss could lead to a reduction in cost to the utility’s customers.

Young said that is a goal.

Rockwood Water Sewer and Gas manager Kim Ramsey said water loss will be a focus especially in the coming year.

At more than 35 percent, it has been a concern to other city officials, including city council member Mike Freeman.
Ramsey said increasing documentation for water used will help.

“This would include all the documentation for flushing, fire department needs and our department use,” Ramsey said.
“Our biggest water loss issue at this time is an altitude valve that is not functioning at one of our tanks,” Ramsey said.

“Once we had the numbers of the average overflow it was apparent that this is our largest problem at this time. We have ordered parts and plan to have it corrected this month,” Ramsey added. “If that situation is corrected, then we anticipate that our water loss for September will be in the 28-30 percent range.”

Ramsey said the state comptrollers office requires additional reporting for utilities experiencing more than 35 percent.

“We were around 37 percent for the last audit, so we are preparing additional reports for the state at this time,” Ramsey said.

“Although we will exceed 35 percent if they include the water tank situation as unaccounted for water rather than accounted for water, we feel comfortable with our strategy to ensure compliance in the next year,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said the goal would be a reduction to around 18 to 20 percent with more emphasis on the issue in the coming year.

“We are planning to implement a testing program to look for leaks in our system and we are currently determining the replacement of some large meters which may account for some loss,” Ramsey said.