Gaines loses millions of gallons of water annually

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Town will try to better track water, find leaks

Photo by Tom Rivers – Gaines Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said the town needs to better account for its water, particularly with its record keeping.

GAINES – The town of Gaines had 60 million gallons of unaccounted water go through its water lines in the past 4 ½ years, about $170,000 worth of water that it paid the village of Albion.

Town officials want to reduce that number, which represents about 19 percent of the total public water usage in Gaines.

“We’re going to take a more proactive approach and see if we can get to the bottom of it,” Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said after a meeting Tuesday when an audit of the water system was presented. “For a little town like this that is a lot of money.”

The town contracted with Wendel Energy for a review of the water system. Gerald Summe and Brian Sibiga from Wendel presented the study on Tuesday.

They said the town needs more master water meters in each of its 10 water districts, better record keeping and a plan for regularly replacing residential water meters. The town also needs to make sure no one is getting water without being properly billed, Sibiga said.

The town should also purchase leak detection equipment and establish a program for better tracking and repairing leaks.

The audit showed a loss in water from 8.3 million gallons annually (at $35,600 in revenue) to 15.4 million gallons ($65,400). The American Water Works Association suggests a 10 percent loss as a benchmark. Gaines is nearly double that rate.

“You need to put forward that effort and be good stewards so you know where the water is going,” Sibiga told town officials.

Wendel determined the water loss percentages by taking the number of gallons Gaines is billed for by the village and subtracting what the town then bills its users. Gaines buys water from the village for $2.94 per 1,000 gallons. Town residents are billed $4.25 per 1,000.

Gaines has 27 miles of water lines in 10 water districts with 754 customers. The infrastructure is relatively new and in good shape overall, Summe said. That’s good news because Gaines doesn’t need major capital investments to fix leaking old pipes.

It also leads Wendel officials to suspect that the record keeping needs to be tightened to better account for all of the water.

The company suggested the town look at consolidating all 10 water districts into one town-wide district. That would make billing and management easier. Gaines may also want to consider tiered water rates with larger volume users getting a discount.

The firm said Gaines should consider more master meters on roads and water districts so it can better pinpoint any leaks and problem areas, and should work to replace more residential and large-volume user meters. Those meters lose their effectiveness with each passing year, accounting for some the discrepancy in what Gaines buys from the Albion and what the town then bills its customers.

Without more meters and leak detection equipment, Sibiga said the town will struggle to find that lost water.

“You’re looking for a needle in the haystack when you’re looking for a water leak,” he said. “A lot of this is a ‘Where’s Waldo’ with where the water is going.”

Gaines has built most of its new water districts within the past 20 years. But even relatively new infrastructure can have holes, letting out water.

“You’re not going to stop the system from getting leaks,” Sibiga said. “Every system has leaks. The question is how quickly can you find them and repair them.”

New meters would provide more accurate data for billing records, and Sibiga said the town should meter some problem areas monthly rather than quarterly to better track water consumption and potential losses.

The town should also be diligent in making sure every water consumer is being billed. Culhane wants to see the town go after its record keeping first and see if that narrows the gap in lost water.