Leaky waterlines draining Strasburg

STRASBURG – For at least the past three years, Strasburg has been treating millions of gallons of wastewater more than it bills for, according to documents provided by the town.

The culprits behind the losses are leaks in the town’s sewer pipes, said Assistant City Manager Jay McKinley, who has been working to curb the outflows. He said rain is seeping into the pipes, as evidenced by the way the disparities between the amount of water treated versus water billed spike after heavy rains.

McKinley attributed the leaks to damage sustained over time since the pipes were installed.

“The utility lines went in after World War II,” he said. “When it’s in the ground, people tend not to think about it until it starts failing.”

While the town wants to only treat as much water as its residents use, McKinley said a 25-percent disparity is an industry standard. In May, Strasburg treated more than twice as much water as it billed.

According to the town’s wastewater audit report in May, Strasburg treated 30.76 million gallons of wastewater, yet distributed billings for 13.98 million gallons, approximately 55 percent of the water treated. That leaves 16.78 million gallons of treated water unaccounted for.

These losses equate to $173,337 in lost sewer potential revenue, according to the audit.

Town Councilman Don Le Vine said in an interview that the volume of the leaks concerns him, as well as the money the town spends on labor and chemicals to treat the unused water.

“We’re treating water that no one is charged for, and the discrepancy is quite large,” he said.

Some months have lost the town more revenue than others. For instance, according to the May audit, the town lost nearly $300,000 in potential wastewater revenue in December 2013 and a bit over $250,000 in June 2014.

These findings were presented at the June Town Council meeting, in which council increased water taxes and fees on the town’s water users.

McKinley said that while it’s been slow going, he is making progress plugging the leaks. He said Strasburg bought a special camera last summer that cruises the town’s 50 miles of sewer lines to spot problem areas to fix.

Although McKinley has had some success, he said there are only two town workers trained to use the equipment and it’s a secondary responsibility for them. He is seeking to bring more onboard.

Despite how daunting some of the numbers are, McKinley said inefficiency is standard in city water and sewer systems. He said Strasburg is a member of the American Water Works Association, which helps towns control their water supplies.

McKinley said the standard American Water Works Association difference rate between the amount of water a city bills for and produces should be roughly 25 percent. He said Strasburg’s water treatment plant is on par with these numbers, although he is still working to improve them.

While video equipment doesn’t work in water lines, McKinley said there is complex audio technology that can detect leaks, and, at this point, the town is looking for the major problems.

“We’re looking for those smoking guns in the system,” he said.

Looking forward, McKinley is trying to lower the disparities between the billed amount and treated amount to stop losses to the city and eventually increase the plants’ capacities.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com