By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
A state-required audit of Dade County’s water loss led Bobby Nolen, Dade Water Authority’s consulting engineer, to a surprising conclusion: the Authority is not much wasting water as letting county customers get away without paying for it.
“If a meter is recording inaccurately, in most instances it is not recording all the water that passes through it,” Nolen explained to the Authority’s board of directors at its regular monthly meeting on Friday. “That’s an apparent loss. It’s not coming out in a leak, the customer is using it – but we’re not billing for it.”
Nolen told the board that he had tested a random sampling of 80 water meters of varying ages throughout the county and that from his findings it was reasonable to assume as much as 10 percent of residential-use water in the county was going down the drain unaccounted for. “That’s a fairly considerable amount of water when you consider how much water you use in a month,” he said.
Then, said the engineer, 60 to 70 larger, commercial-use meters in the county were also losing the Authority money and generating what on the books looked like water loss. “They are being misused in that probably these meters are bigger than what the use calls for,” said Nolen. “The larger meter takes a larger amount of water to flow through it to register properly.”
There again, he said, the water is not simply disappearing, it is being used but not billed for.
The audit, Nolen told the board, was required by the state not just as an accounting measure statewide but with a view toward water conservation as outlined in a comprehensive plan the state recommended two years ago.
Water Authority manager Doug Anderton backed him up from long experience. “Through the years you have customers call in and say, you know, there’s something wrong with my meter, it’s registering fast,” he said. “In 40 years, I’ve never seen a meter register fast.”
But if water customers are getting away with that 10 percent freebie now, they won’t for much longer: “There’s a brand-new generation of meters that just now hit the market that just registers drops, almost,” said Anderton. “We’re testing some now.”
Anderton said the new meters can be monitored with a laptop computer into which they are able to feed a history of water usage hour by hour.
Board member Dennis Watson, who presided at the meeting in the absence of County Executive Ted Rumley, who as Dade Commission chairman also chairs the water board, asked what would happen to the Authority’s financials if the wastage was eliminated. “Assuming we capture all of this, what will that do for revenue?” he said. “Does it increase revenue proportionately?”
Anderton said maybe, maybe not, depending on how customers react to paying for their whole usage. “Will they continue to use the same amount of water, or will they start conserving?” he said.
Reporting on the Authority’s financials, employee Sherri Walker said January had been an excellent month revenue-wise. “We are $124,000 ahead for the 12-month period, so right now we’re doing excellent,” she said.
Anderton added that January is typically the heaviest usage month because of customers leaving water running to avoid frozen pipes, a practice that has made him nervous in some dry years when he worried about keeping the community supplied. “That’s what the weatherman will say, ‘You’d better leave those faucets running tonight,’ and I’d just cringe,” he remembered.
Engineer Nolen gave a report on major projects undertaken by the Authority through a GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) low-interest loan, explaining it would be the last one as all the work had wound down.
But on that subject, board member Dr. Billy Pullen made the rare request that last month’s minutes be amended before he voted to approve them to reflect that a $120,000 soft-cost overrun for one of those projects, a sewer revamp in the Flintstone subdivision, also known as Krupski Loop, was not of Dade Water’s doings and that the cost would not be absorbed by the Authority.
“I just wonder if they could stick in there somewhere that we were obligated to pay the city of Lookout Mountain and that the cost … the residents of the Flintstone subdivision were going to pay that back on their monthly sewer bill,” he said.
Nolen explained all that was written into the intergovernmental agreement between the Authority and the city of Lookout Mountain, Ga., whose municipal system is now administering the Krupski Loop sewer.
But he said he would make it clear in the minutes, and he broke the overrun costs down as due to an odor control system added by Lookout Mountain as well as administrative and legal costs that city had incurred for the project.
And Anderton reported another project the Authority undertook at the request of former County Executive Ben Brandon, a water line under I-59 at Rising Fawn to supply Brandon and another customer on the west side, was now complete.
“I think those couple of customers over there have got to run about 2,500 feet of pipe or something to be able to hook that up to the private road to get it done, but we fixed our part and it’s tested and ready to go,” said Anderton.
The next water board meeting is at 10 a.m. on March 16.