BELEN – The city of Belen has been losing millions of gallons of water every year for decades, never knowing where it went. Now, a recent study conducted by consulting firm Resource Wise has finally determined the causes have been the city’s own, widespread faulty systems and aging infrastructure.
“There was a number of issues … including meter failure, meter inaccuracies, wrong meter application, busted water mains, inaccurate meter programming and multipliers, billing software issues, water theft and low flows reported by mechanical meters,” Charles Eaton, the city’s municipal regulations specialist, told the City Council last week.
One example of unnecessary water loss, he said, was a problem at city Well No. 5 in which there is a relief system that is supposed to cause a pump to close down. Instead, Eaton said, it was continuing to pump water.
“The problem was it was releasing 18 gallons per minute. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but over a day, it’s 25,000 gallons per day, or 770,000 gallons per month,” Eaton said. “We immediately addressed that issue, and it was rectified.”
Eaton told the council there were major water loss issues at many commercial buildings, such as Walmart. He said low water use at these meters was not recognized.
“Any flow that was 10 gallons or less per minute were not registered,” he said. “That includes flushing the toilet, washing hands, washing in the kitchen. If that (water) passed the meter, that’s a little over 7 gallons per minute, 10,000 gallons per day and amounts to 3.6 million (gallons) per year. That’s substantial.
“Those are issues we have to address,” Eaton said. “There are about 12 of those meters within the city, and we have to develop a game plan to address those. They are not calculating low-flow calculations.”
Another issue the city recognized is within its own properties, including the parks. Eaton said that the city has a 6-inch meter at Eagle Park for irrigation but that it does not recognize low flow to the community center. He said the meter recognizes only cubic feet per minute rather than gallons per minute.
“We need to reprogram that meter, because it’s problematic, and it’s difficult for our accounting people to determine the actual flow of that particular meter,” he said. “Another problem at Eagle Park is there is an inadequate irrigation system.”
Eaton said the city is using about 1 million gallons of water a year for irrigation. There are many sprinkler heads that are essentially just fountains.
“A lot of the problem is we allow people to drive on this surface and we’re not marking (the sprinklers),” Eaton said. “They’re damaging the sprinklers. We need to resurface the entire park, change out the irrigation system and put it on timers to water late at night or early in the morning to help conserve water. A park of that size should be using about 300,000 a year, not a million gallons.”
Eaton also said that there are incorrect multipliers in the city’s billing system and that they include a couple of car washes in the city.
“Those have been addressed and corrected, and we’re adequately billing those high water users,” he said.
Resource Wise also was able to identify several meters in the city that weren’t even connected to the city’s billing system. Eaton says those meters have been put back into the system, including one at an RV park.
Resource Wise also learned there were several people who tampered with meters, essentially stealing water from the city, he said.
Water technicians are now looking closely at meters, and if they suspect tampering, they will call the Police Department for an investigation.
“These are ongoing things that will reduce the non-revenue water loss,” Eaton told the council.
“Another thing we need to do is if there is a water break, we need to notify the utility department of the time period.
“We had a major water break a few months ago on Didier and lost about 500,000 gallons of water,” he said.
“Those types of situations should be reported and reported to the state.
“The same goes with our Fire Department. If they can report the amount of water that’s used to suppress a fire, we can use that as accounting toward non-revenue water loss.”