Home visits needed to pinpoint water loss issues

By Brandon Martin

Staff from the Henry County Public Service Authority (PSA) will soon be conducting door-to-door audits to address ongoing issues with non-revenue water loss, according to Mike Ward, director of regulatory compliance.

“The non-revenue water for the month was 29 percent. It was actually down 10.5 million gallons from the previous month and about 34 percent for the annual running average,” Ward said at a Feb. 16 meeting.

Even though the number is down, Ward said it coincides with difficulties the PSA is having with finished water metering issues which are currently being evaluated by a contractor.

“It’s still up in the air. We’ve gone back and forward” to address the issue, Ward said. “We’ve come up with a couple of ideas, but we’ve got to test it. Even though those numbers are there, there is still that caveat of some uncertainty.”

The amount of water loss is likely a conservative estimate, Ward said of the 10.5-million-gallon decrease.

“It is probably on the low side. We are seeing numbers from the meter as being too high. The percentage should be lower than normal,” he said, and added the standard non-revenue water loss across the state typically falls between 15-20 percent.

“We were running for a while what we thought was 12 or 15 percent. It was really good,” Ward said. “Washington County Service Authority is down to 45 percent. There are some newer utilities that have newer systems. They may be around 10 percent. Everybody is going to have some loss but if you can get around 15 percent, you’re doing good.”

Ward said the water loss occurs between the discharge of the water plant and the customer meters.

“Age of the system is the biggest thing. It’s usually not going to be one silver bullet,” Ward said. “It’s going to be half a gallon a minute here, half a gallon a minute there. We have found some fairly large ones.”

Ward said he isn’t aware of any customers getting excess water without paying for it.

“We are going to be doing some water door-to-door type audits like we did back in the 90s,” Ward said. “That is going to take our staff getting familiar with what was done before and basically go door to door to look at ‘does somebody have a garden hose hooked from one house to the other.’”

Darrell Jones, finance director, said about 10 years, the PSA found that some meters were using water without it being read.

“At the time, we had a lot of unhappy customers show up and we had to look at the statute of limitations because we went back and billed them,” Jones said. “I think we established three years was as far as we could go back. We identified hundreds of meters at the time that were using water, but they were not in our system to be read.”

Ward said his team is considering storm drains.

“You could be having a leak right there at a storm drain, going right into that line and you’ll never see it,” Ward said. “You could be losing 100 gallons a minute.”

It will take a lot of time and manpower to address all points where water loss could be occurring, he said.

Jones said water sales in the month of January were down 2.17 percent, with sewer sales running about even with the year before.

“We are in a very good position,” Jones said of the overall financial position of the PSA. “I’ve been here over 17 years now. When I first came here, I’m not even sure we had $1 million in the bank account. Now” the PSA has “over $20 million in the bank so we’ve come a long way.”

Tim Pace, director of engineering, asked for the board’s approval on the final portion of funding for a $195,000 aerial photography upgrade of the county’s mapping.

“Every five years or so, the county does an aerial mapping upgrade,” Pace said. “We hire a consultant to fly over the county to capture aerial photography and update our mapping.”

Pace said the project was in the fiscal year 2020 budget, but it was pulled given the uncertainty of the last year.

“The Board of Supervisors approved their portion at the last board meeting and the PSA’s portion of that project is $65,000,” Pace said. “It was in the capital budget and we pulled it out right as COVID hit.”

The PSA Board of Directors approved the project. The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) also approved $30,000 for the project. Those funds will be added to the $100,000 from the county.

The aerial shots are used “for designing projects,” Pace said, adding that water line design is an example of such a project. “If we do two design projects in that five-year period, it pays for itself.”

Pace said the imagery also will be available to the public upon request.








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