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Loyal may have found water loss source

Every day, on average, the city of Loyal loses 24,000 gallons of water. It knows how much its wells produce, it knows how much goes through residential and commercial meters, but those 24,000 gallons vanish somewhere in between.

The city now has an idea of where that water is going, after hiring Water Works Services last month to come in and investigate. The firm found three potential leaks in the city’s water system that may be the source of most of the loss, and it doesn’t appear as if they will be that expensive to fix. It’s not sure yet if the potential leaks are under city property or on part of the transmission system in private yards, but it will be checking it out soon.

For several years, said city assistant clerk Vicki Pieper, the Public Service Commission in its annual water report has noted a discrepancy between the amount of water the city pumps out of the ground and the amount it sells to residents and businesses. The lost water amounts were reduced when all the water and sewer lines under Main Street were replaced in 2018, but the PSC again this year reminded the city it should find the source of the losses.

The City Council last month approved a $1,600 contract with Water Works Services, which came to the city and literally listened for leaks along the almost 80,000 feet of underground main. Since there are no obvious ponding problems or other above-ground signs of leaks, the firm uses its equipment to listen near various connections, manholes, etc., where water may be flowing underground.

Water Works found three probable leaks and estimated possible loss amounts. The most significant one — at an estimated 10,000 gallons a day — is on West Elm Drive near its intersection with North Thomas Street. That leak appears to be on a water main, for which the city is responsible for maintenance.

The other two possible leaks were discovered on Union Street and South Thomas Street. Each of those leaks is estimated at 6,000 gallons per day, but it is unknown if they are on the street side of the curb (city responsibility) or the private yard side (property owner’s responsibility).

The city has taken no steps yet to dig around the suspected leaks to see how serious they may be, and Pieper noted the water loss estimates are based only on above-ground observations. If the estimates are accurate, though, it could mean most of the water loss problems have at least been located.

“This is a very good finding for us,” Pieper said. “It’s actually a really good one for the city.”

Leaks such as these are hard to detect. In some cases, when a water main breaks, water rises to the surface and runs down a street or ponds in a yard. These are invisible ones that occur underground and do not reveal themselves.

“It could’ve been going on for years and years,” Pieper said. ”It (the water) has made its natural little ravine to the storm sewer.

Also, she noted, it doesn’t take a massive main break to translate into significant water loss.

“Six thousand gallons a day can be a pencil-hole size,” she said.

The lost water is not necessarily costing the city a great deal of money. The city pumps an average of 150,000-160,000 gallons of water each day from seven different wells, and those supply plenty of water for the city’s needs. However, Pieper said PSC is urging the city to find and rectify the losses, and it will put less stress on the wells, pumps etc. if the city is not taking out water it doesn’t need.

“We don’t want it to cost us any more to make water so we can keep our water rates down,” Pieper said.

Another possible cost factor is for wastewater treatment. The city’s wastewater flow is directed to Greenwood for treatment before it is discharged into the Black River, and the city pays Greenwood for that service. Loyal is allowed to send as much as 124,000 gallons per day before extra charges kick in, so if the excess water puts the city over that limit, there is an associated cost.

“It could affect our bill to Greenwood,” Pieper said.

Water Works’ report was presented to the City Council at a May 19 monthly meeting, and the matter of fixing the leaks was referred to the Utility Committee. A discussion will be held on whether the city should pay to fix leaks on private property that normally would be the financial responsibility of the property owner.

If the leaks are on the private side of the curb, Pieper said the water is not going through the meter that determines household usage, so the owner is not paying for it. Therefore, she said, it would be difficult to convince a property owner to pay to tear up their yard to fix a leak that’s not costing them anything.

If the city decides to make the repairs, Pieper said it should be at a reasonable cost.

“We’re very fortunate because our city crew can do so much with their knowledge,” Pieper said.

The fixes would rectify a problem the PSC has been noting for years.

“We would be underneath the acceptable range for the PSC,” Pieper said. “They’re not hounding us, but it’s a good fix to make.”