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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Infrastructure

City decision to repair water main leaks not always simple

July 22, 2014
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The city of Asheville, N.C., says it has spent $86 million over a seven-year span replacing aging waterlines and making other improvements. Yet it also says it still loses 5.4 million gallons of water a day — a little less than 30 percent of what leaves the city’s three treatment plants, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

The water is kept at pressure to move it through a network of more than 1,000 miles of water mains, including in older neighborhoods and areas where water flow is challenged.

Unfortunately, according to sources quoted in the article, much of the $86 million was spent on things not intended to stop leaks. Moreover, they say, leaks and fixing leaks are not a huge part of its annual budget.

Water losses cost Asheville about $658,000 a year, according to an outside audit completed last year, about 2 percent of the amount the city plans to spend on water during the current fiscal year, according to the Asheville Citizen Times. Losses include the extra electricity, manpower and chemicals above what the city would be spending anyway.

Critics have raised the issue of leaks. Some say the Asheville system should be handed over to the Metropolitan Sewerage District, though city officials note water losses are on the decline.

A judge last month struck down as unconstitutional a 2013 law mandating the transfer, but that decision is being appealed to the state Court of Appeals, leaving the future of the system uncertain, according to the news article.

But according to the industry’s standard measurement of water loss, the system already achieves a level of efficiency the American Water Works Association recommends for systems in arid regions or with significant constraints on water availability. The system’s rating is considerably better than the target the association says utilities with relatively abundant water supply like Asheville should strive toward.

It is said the amount of water lost is down about 7 percent since 2012-13. It is difficult to make comparisons of water loss from one utility to the next because most don’t even know how much they are losing, notes the Asheville Citizen Times article.

Private companies are positioned to bridge an investment gap of more than $500 billion for drinking water and wastewater treatment in the U.S over the next 20 years. To date, private systems supply 15 percent of the U.S. population.

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