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FUD reports water loss

First Utility District outlined a few solutions to its apparent water loss at its board of directors meeting Tuesday, Oct. 25.

FUD assistant manager Wayne Watson said the utility pumps about 5 billion gallons of water into nearly 500 miles of water lines each year. First Utility loses track of about 18 percent of that, or a little less than 1 billion gallons.

“It sounds like a terrible problem, that we could lose almost 20 percent of the water we make. But it’s very difficult and very expensive to find that water,” Watson said.

And First Utility is taking steps to bring that percentage down, he added.

“Leaks that come to the surface we can find and fix. But leaks that go underground or go directly to a stream or something, are very difficult to find, very expensive to find,” Watson said.

“You can just imagine the driveways and sidewalks and the cracks you see in them. The same thing happens to our pipes underground: they crack. There are little, small leaks just everywhere, we probably think.

“So you’ve got to find the big ones and fix them,” he added.

FUD is taking steps to make its meters more accurate, ensuring it is able to keep track of the water being used by customers. Since 2008, Watson said the utility has replaced 99 percent of its residential and small commercial meters with radio-read meters to ensure precision.

“One way you can apparently lose water is that you don’t bill the customer for the water they use, or you don’t meter the water they use correctly,” Watson said.

FUD also has replaced a few large meters with smaller, more precise ones. In one instance, FUD replaced a large, four-inch meter from a former manufacturing facility that had been changed to retail.

Larger meters “measure much larger flows but have difficulty measuring lower flows that a residential or small commercial company would use,” Watson said. So FUD put in a smaller meter.

He estimated the meter change at that one company could add 50,000 gallons of “lost” water back into the FUD system every year ... but Watson said that was still a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $1 billion gallons of lost water.

“That’s just a tremendous amount of water,” he said.

Watson said FUD might also install new meters at its water treatment plant over some controversy about whether the Utility actually is producing as much water as it records now.

“We’re going to try to do a better job of measuring the water we produce. We’re afraid at this point that maybe these meters are reading high and we’re not pumping out as much as we think we are,” Watson said.

“But those meters could cost anywhere between $10[,000] and $20,000 apiece,” he added.

According to Watson, First Utility also is assigning an employee to look at water loss full time, specifically using special equipment to listen for hidden leaks.

“These devices actually listen for water flowing and you try to judge from that whether you have a leak in this pipe,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to find those hidden leaks,” he added.

First Utility’s water losses are relatively low compared to other utilities. The state recently has regulated that all utilities bring their losses below 35 percent of their total water production.

“We’re way within the new limits the state has come up with,” Watson said.


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