Port water leakage problem flushed
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,
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.