2017-04-19 / Front Page

Where has all the water gone?

Millions of gallons unaccounted for in Worth Township
810-452-2684 • skovac@mihomepaper.com

This chart produced by Supervisor Phil Essenmacher tracks the millions of gallons of unaccounted for municipal water in Worth since 2006. Despite the board’s ongoing efforts to reduce the losses, there were still more than 5 million gallons unaccounted for last year. This chart produced by Supervisor Phil Essenmacher tracks the millions of gallons of unaccounted for municipal water in Worth since 2006. Despite the board’s ongoing efforts to reduce the losses, there were still more than 5 million gallons unaccounted for last year. WORTH TWP. — The mystery about the millions of gallons of water unaccounted for each year in the Worth municipal water system appears to be solved - at least in part.

For years, the township board has been perplexed by how its monthly department of public works report would show it selling so many less gallons of water to customers than it had purchased from the village of Lexington’s water plant.

Consultations were held with the village water department staff. Outside experts were brought in to offer their ideas, and to help the Worth DPW track down the cause of the enormous water losses. Physical inspections of the tower and the pipelines were performed ruling out main breaks. A new master meter was purchased. And the water still continued to seemingly disappear.

The suggestion was made by state experts that statistically the high percentage of unaccounted for water loss was not out of line with average losses reported by communities of similar size.

Though plausible, the theory did not satisfy township board members, who periodically questioned the DPW how the gallons lost could be so high.

Supervisor Phil Essenmacher explained how the case was finally cracked.

“It was through a complex process of computer cross-checking of water bills,” he said. “In doing the search and data analysis, it was discovered that between 200 and 300 of the system’s 1,600 water meters were consistently showing ‘no usage’. That means that between 200 and 300 water customers were paying only the fixed monthly charges, and were paying zero for water used.

“Granted some of these homes might be seasonally shutoff, but the ‘no usage’ reads were also coming through in the summer months,” said Essenmacher,

“It was discovered last year that the battery powering the transmitters in the radio-read meters only lasts so long. Many were first installed 16 or 17 years ago. The batteries went dead and were not replaced, and the meter reads would come back showing no usage,” he said.

Essenmacher believes the solution is as simple as changing the dead batteries and keeping them up to date.

Why it wasn’t done as part of a regular maintenance program is another mystery.

An analysis of the data on the related chart reveals that the average number of unaccounted for gallons for the nine years from 2006-2014 works out to 3.7 million gallons per year.

The chart shows a sharp spike in lost water from 4,508,126 gallons in 2014 to 7,444,311 gallons in 2015.

That jump of nearly three million gallons of unaccounted for water got Essenmacher’s attention.

When he performed his computer analysis, which revealed the large number of meters reporting no usage, the battery problem was found to be the explanation.

The reader may note from the bottom left corner of the chart the more than two million-gallon drop in lost water from 2015 to 2016.

Essenmacher said in an email to the News, “There were over 200 meters that weren’t reading. Roughly 50 still need to be replaced. I directly attribute the reduction in our water loss from 2015 to 2016 to the meters that have been repaired.”

According to Worth Township Clerk Jennifer Stanyer, Worth pays Lexington $3.73 per thousand gallons and resells the water to customers for $4.50 per thousand gallons.

Using these current rates, in the spike year of 2015, the value of unaccounted for water was $33,499. (This dollar figure would have been slightly less in 2015 because rates have increased since).

The average water loss over the eleven years since 2006 is 4,218,109 gallons per year. That translates into an average loss of $18,981 per year.

Stanyer told the News, “We have to be careful with these figures, because they could be a bit misleading. Just because the transmitters were not working does not mean the meters weren’t keeping track of a family’s water use.

“Because these customers actually used the water, they were eventually billed for what they used. The township was thus able to recoup the money they should have been paying all along,” she said.

“Some of these charges go back from three months to more than two years.”

Stanyer said that very few people got a large bill, and that the township worked something out with those who couldn’t afford to pay.

Seeking to prevent such a thing from happening again, Stanyer said the township board was looking at implementing a “renewal program.”

“This is a schedule by which older meters would be automatically replaced,” she explained. “Meters can get out of calibration over time.”

Stanyer said, “People need to know that in order to keep costs down we try to continually analyze all expenses connected with water. For example, we have approached Lexington asking them to put a cap on the money accumulating in an escrow account set up in case of the need for major unforeseen work on the water system. We are obligated to pay into this contingency fund every year. It has accumulated to over $2 million. To save money we would like to suspend our payments until the balance is drawn down to some extent and needs to be replenished. Then our payments could start up again.”

Stanyer said she is hopeful that the new village leadership will be receptive to the idea.

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