Palestine puzzled by continued water loss

EAST PALESTINE – A mystery remains unsolved in the village, and that is where millions of gallons of water are going each month that are not being billed to the water department.

The conversation began in May when village officials began noticing a large amount of water leaving the system and not being accounted for.

Councilman Don Elzer showed his concern about the loss in June, noting the village produced 25 million gallons of water in May and only billed for 7.5 million.

This week, Councilman Alan Cohen dovetailed on those concerns.

“It’s bad enough that we are producing, on average, seven to eight million gallons a month we basically aren’t getting paid for and don’t know where it’s going, but we doubled that in May. There is a 16-million gallon difference there in April and May, where did that go?” he said.

According to the up-to-date report provided to council for the water and wastewater department, the village produced 17 million gallons of water in June and billed for 8.5 million gallons.

The report goes back to January and shows the village produces about 14 to 16 million gallons a month while only billing for about seven to eight million gallons.

May was the only time water production exceeded 18 million gallons.

Cohen said the water loss is so extensive it would be impossible to attribute it to only a leak in the system.

“If this were a leak wouldn’t that be steady?” he said of the difference in water loss.

Elzer agreed something else appeared to be happening, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly what.

“There is enough water missing here that this is not going to be one problem, this is going to be a series of problems,” he said.

He and Cohen said about nine to 10 million gallons of water is lost every month, with Cohen saying that is about 56 percent of water produced the village is not getting paid for.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said they could begin metering all of the municipal buildings, including police and fire, to see if water loss is happening there. The buildings have not been metered, with the exception of the current village administration building on North Market Street that was metered since it is a former bank, but the meter is not read.

Metering the buildings would not be difficult to do, he added.

Council agreed that would be one option, and Elzer said metering would be a good idea but didn’t believe the loss could be attributed to the buildings.

“It’s not flushing hydrants, it’s not the fire department … it’s not the swimming pool,” he said.

Council briefly wondered if the leaks at the public pool at the park could be to blame, but the pool only holds 400,000 gallons of water, and that does not account for the other millions of gallons not being billed.

Village officials discovered the pool was leaking shortly before opening this season, causing a delay in the opening date. The repairs cost $4,830 and the village is seeking grant funding to buy a pool liner in the future.

Meanwhile, money has already been included in this year’s budget to pay for a professional survey of the water system to find any leaks.

Cohen said the village needs to be “more aggressive” with figuring out where the leaks are occurring because they are on the cusp of having to pay for a new equalization basin that will be costly, and Figley pointed out they are going to be spending more than $100,000 on a new water well, which the village’s share will be about $25,000, Monteleone said.

Elzer also pointed out there is another problem, and that is that the village is treating twice as much wastewater as it is producing, which also doesn’t make sense.

The village treated 27.8 million gallons of wastewater in June and 45.5 million gallons in June.

“We are treating twice as much water as we producing,” he said.

Whether that is the result of storm water getting into the system was briefly discussed, but Elzer said after the meeting that would have to be a lot of storm water.

Council then approved:

– The 2015 budget as an emergency and allocating funding for the Sumner Street Bridge project. Figley was the lone dissenter for the bridge legislation and has said in the past he does not believe the bridge needs repaired at this time.

– A second reading was given to 2014 supplemental appropriation legislation.