News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 3, 2018
Stonington system still bleeding water

by Rich Hewitt

The Stonington Water Company is still trying to solve the problem of unmetered water loss.

Earlier this month, Annaleis Hafford, the engineer from Olver Associates who manages the water company, reported that the first quarter unmetered water loss—the difference between what the system pumps and what is measured by the meters—was about 51 percent. That was higher than anticipated, Hafford said, and it amounts to about one million gallons of water missing during the first three months of the year.

Although improvements to the system over the past several years have allowed the water company to reduce the amount of water it pumps into the system, the unmetered water loss has been a consistent problem for the utility. But workers may have identified at least a part of the problem, according to Hafford.

Unmetered water losses are always highest in the first quarter, and Hafford said they believe it may be tied to customers who bleed their own systems in order to keep their water lines from freezing in the winter. Because of the granite ledge throughout the town, many of the lines are not buried deep enough to keep those lines ice free in the winter. According to Hafford, the utility has 11 official bleeder sites in the system, but she suspects that there are at least that many more who are trickling water during the winter.

That water adds up. Of the official bleeder sites, about half are metered using the new meters the utility has been installing. One site with a bleeder set up at one-quarter gallon per minute, used 34,000 gallons of water over the 100 days it ran during the first quarter.

Ben Pitts, the water company operator, pointed out that the new meters are much more accurate than the older ones which don’t always pick up lower flows consistently. The official bleeder sites are accounted for, but if other sites are bleeding water with old meters in place, each could be using as much as 34,000 gallons each winter that’s not accounted for.

“If those bleeders are on older meters, that could be a lot of the water we’re missing,” he said.

The water company turned off the winter bleeders on April 6.

The utility has replaced about 30 meters each year for the past three years; that’s a rate of about 10 percent each year.

“Obviously, we need to be replacing more,” Hafford said in her report to the selectmen.

She added that they have a list of stuck meters that they know need to be replaced. In addition, when they read the meters each quarter, they find more that have “suspiciously low” readings.

Hafford added that they suspect there are some leaks in the system that they have not yet detected, which would also add to the unmetered water loss.

The water company bid a formal farewell to Pitts, who has served as the system’s operator during the past several years. Pitts will start work next month as the special projects coordinator for the Island Employee Cooperative, which owns and operates two markets on the island. Hafford praised the work Pitts has done working with her to improve the system which had multiple problems when Olver took over the management.