Port wa­ter leak­age prob­lem flushed

The Welland Tribune - - Front Page - MIKE ZETTEL

Every­one with a bit of knowl­edge about the city’s wa­ter sys­tem knows Port Col­borne has long strug­gled with what is of­ten re­ferred to as “un­ac­counted” wa­ter loss.

This is the dif­fer­ence be­tween what the city pays for wa­ter it re­ceives from Ni­a­gara Re­gion and the amount it charges it cus­tomers. The his­toric high vol­ume of un­ac­counted wa­ter rate — typ­i­cally about half — has long been a bone of con­tention for both coun­cil­lors and res­i­dents, who ul­ti­mately have to make up for the dif­fer­ence on their wa­ter bills.

At its meet­ing Mon­day, coun­cil dealt with a re­port which at­tempted to give an over­view of the prob­lem. The re­port was pre­pared by the city’s en­gi­neer­ing de­part­ment in ad­vance of a mo­tion by Ward 3 Coun. Bea Kenny, who wanted the city to hire a pri­vate com­pany to study the prob­lem and come up with a so­lu­tion once and for all.

In kick­ing off the re­port’s sum­mary, op­er­a­tions and en­gi­neer­ing di­rec­tor Chris Lee said it’s time to put the term to rest al­to­gether.

Lee said “un­ac­counted wa­ter” gives the im­pres­sion that wa­ter’s sim­ply van­ish­ing, that the city has no idea where it’s gone. The term also paints a pic­ture of a di­lap­i­dated city wa­ter sys­tem, with too many leaks to count.

That sim­ply is not the case,

Lee said.

To start with, any wa­ter the city uses for op­er­a­tions — for ex­am­ple, by the fire de­part­ment — does not get billed. Nei­ther does wa­ter used for the city’s test­ing, for which it col­lects sam­ples from 24 lo­ca­tions a week.

As well, Lee said, the city frequently must flush the wa­ter sys­tem to en­sure pipes aren’t

car­ry­ing stale wa­ter. And be­cause nearly half of the city’s wa­ter sys­tem is made of cast or duc­tile iron pipes, more wa­ter is needed to flush them.

Other is­sues in­clude sys­tem dead ends, for which flush sta­tions are in­stalled to pre­vent stale wa­ter, the process on com­mis­sion­ing new wa­ter­mains, which re­quires ex­ten­sive test­ing, and wa­ter billing er­rors.

Lee said staff re­al­ized that wa­ter me­ters slow down over time as buildup oc­curs, lead­ing to cus­tomers be­ing billed for less than they use.

Wa­ter theft from by­pass­ing me­ters is also an is­sue, he said.

This is not to say leaks are not oc­cur­ring.

Lee said the city is con­stantly look­ing for leaks, which are ob­vi­ously go­ing to hap­pen in an ag­ing sys­tem.

But even when the city does re­place wa­ter­mains, they of­ten hook up to pri­vate ser­vices, some­times an­cient pri­vate ser­vices, that are not re­placed. Lee said much of the leak­age in the city likely oc­curs on the pri­vate sec­tion be­fore the wa­ter reaches the me­ter.

“We sus­pect this is a large area of leak­age,” he said, not­ing a 1/16-inch hole in a pipe can lead to 280 cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter be­ing lost in a sin­gle billing pe­riod.

Lee said the city’s work­ing on a pi­lot which would see ser­vices re­placed right up to the foun­da­tion wall to see if that re­sults in a sub­stan­tial re­duc­tion.

Kenny’s mo­tion called for a re­quest for pro­posal for a leak de­tec­tion firm with terms of ref­er­ence re­quir­ing a re­duc­tion in wa­ter loss to 10 per cent. Upon hear­ing de­tails of the re­port, Kenny bumped that fig­ure up to 20 per cent.

Lee said the city has worked with such firms in the past and have found any sav­ings re­al­ized didn’t even cover the cost.

“There doesn’t ap­pear to be any magic wand for any­one to wave and say, ‘Here, I’ll get you down to 10 per cent,’” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble, but the amount of dol­lars you’d have to spend would be astro­nom­i­cal.”

Other coun­cil­lors agreed, with Ward 4’s Ron Bod­ner say­ing it seems like a wasted ex­er­cise.

When put to a vote, Kenny’s mo­tion was sup­ported by Couns. Bar­bara But­ters (Ward 4) and Angie Des­marais (Ward 2), while Couns. Bod­ner, Frank Danch (Ward 3) and Dave El­liott (Ward 1) voted against. A tie-break­ing vote by Mayor John Maloney de­feated the mo­tion.

Bea Kenny

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