About 30% of Fayette's 'missing' water tracked down 2015.12.16

By DAVID GREEN

Studies of Fayette water production, along with leak detection work by an outside firm, are giving a better picture of water loss experienced in the village water system, but much of the loss remains undetected.

Mayor Ruth Marlatt reported to council last week after collecting the past five years of water reports submitted by the Village to the Ohio EPA. Nearly 30 percent of the unbilled water has been tracked down, leaving an average of about 72,000 gallons per day or 6.5 million per quarter unaccounted for.

At the same time, village council members are being asked to make an increase in water rates to cover the cost of water production and distribution.

"The notable thing about the [proposed 2016] budget," said village administrator Steve Blue at the Dec. 9 meeting, "is the balance in the water fund and water enhancement fund. They will be very close to zero at the end of this year and our budget has them at very close to zero at the end of next year."

Blue said he will be pushing council hard in January for a water rate increase.

Village fiscal officer Karin Sauerlender told council her concerns about the proposed budget since the water and water enhancement funds will be so close to zero.

"It's not legal to pass a budget where you plan to spend more than the available balance plus revenues," she said. "The whole thing becomes contingent on what we have left over this year."

Even if the Village can make it through 2016 with the balance carried over from the current year, the 2017 budget will have no carryover available without an increase in revenue.

Sauerlender recommends increasing rates a little each year to cover costs rather than waiting until a large increase is needed quickly.

She also addressed the water loss issue as it relates to costs.

"I know we have this concern about the lost water," she said, "but the cost of lost water is actually a relatively small figure compared to the cost of running the fund that would really not change even if we found the lost water."

Payroll would not change, she said, nor the cost of operating the equipment.

In the mayor's report, Marlatt stated her surprise that an increase in water usage of more than 40 percent never triggered any concern during the past three years.

"This delay may have impacted the wear and tear on the wells that cost over $60,000 [for recent repairs]," she said.

Her report reviewed information she presented in October, noting that a 12 to 15 percent loss of treated water is considered acceptable, but losses above 20 percent raise concerns. A report made in July noted that nearly 60 percent of the water pumped during the first quarter of 2015 was not billed to customers.

Monthly reports from the Ohio EPA showed a gradual increase in water production beginning in November 2012 that gradually increased into 2013. In February 2013, for example, water production increased by 17,800 gallons a day from the previous month.

If recent water billing is correct, Marlatt said, and 15 percent is added to represent an acceptable amount of water lost, 7.09 million gallons of water should be pumped every quarter. However, pumping rates varied from 14.4 million to 15.9 million from June through October.

To approach the issue from another side, she multiplied 85 percent times the 15 million gallon average. This shows the Village should bill for 12.8 million gallons per quarter rather than 6.2 million.

Aqua-Line leak detection service reported in late November about five locations where water leaks were discovered. Each of three fire hydrants is leaking water that would total an estimated 182,500 gallons a year. A water main on Gardner Street is losing an estimated 1.8 million gallons a year and another in an alley between Ohio and S. Fayette streets is losing about 7.3 million gallons over the course of a year. Together, the losses reported by Aqua-Line represent a loss of about 26,500 per day.

Leaks in nine other locations were repaired by village workers before Aqua-Line's latest work.

Marlatt noted that this accounts for about 30 percent of the unbilled water, or 2.4 million gallons per quarter.

"That's a nice big step on the way to finding a solution to the problem," she said. "I congratulate you. You're working in the right direction."

"It's a group effort," said village foreman Jeff Merillat.

Marlatt thanked Blue for documenting data for water produced and sold.

"Had he not done so, our village would have continued its three year loss of nearly half of the water its customers have paid to produce," she said. "We're making headway."