GALVESTON

When city workers broke ground near English Bayou, they hoped to install a new drainage component that could potentially delay the effects of sea level rise.

Instead, they discovered a leak in a nearby water line that had been pouring an average of 3 million gallons of water, worth thousands of dollars, into the city’s storm sewer system each day for years, Assistant City Manager Brandon Cook said.

“It was more than a leak, it seems like,” Cook said. “It was like a wide-open line.”

The city might never have found the leak if it hadn’t been trying to set up the new back-flow prevention devices, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Those devices are meant to stop water from backing up into the drainage system’s pipes at times, for example, when tides are running high. That’s especially a problem in Galveston during hard rains because it keeps the system from draining fast enough to prevent street flooding.

But to install a valve, the city needed to ensure the drainage system was empty of water, Maxwell said. A city crew had been pumping 3,000 gallons of water a minute out of the system with no end in sight, he said.

“We could never get it dry,” Maxwell said. “We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.”

Finally on the weekend of Nov. 18, workers found the leaking water line and capped it to stop the flow, Maxwell said.

“If we hadn’t gone through this exercise in the back-flow prevention, we probably wouldn’t have found the leak,” Maxwell said.

The city has had to buy about 3 million gallons less water each day since it capped the water line, Cook said.

The city purchased an average of 13.6 million gallons of water a day from Nov. 18 to Nov. 29, 2016, Cook said. The city purchased an average of 10.5 million of gallons of water a day in that same time period this year, he said.

If that 3 million gallons a day reduction holds, the city will save $600,000 a year, Cook said.

After the line was capped, five other breaches in the water line occurred and led to several sinkholes forming around the island, Maxwell said. There’s no way to be sure that capping the leaking water line led to the breaches, but it’s a likely scenario given the timing of the breaks, Maxwell said.

The whole situation was a complete surprise, given the city didn’t even know the water line existed before officials found the leak, Maxwell said. The 10-inch line was supposedly abandoned by the city in the 1950s or 1960s and doesn’t appear on any recent city maps, he said.

Maxwell said he had watched water consumption “like a hawk” since he began working for the city in 2011 and hadn’t seen any significant changes. That leads him to believe the leak has been occurring for at least seven years, Maxwell said.

“At least in my tenure here, that leak has probably been occurring,” Maxwell said. “This is a big one.”

Fixing the leak allows the city to try the back-flow prevention devices again, Maxwell said. The city had been testing them at no cost in a pilot program with a Swedish company called Wapro AB, so the only extra money the city had to pay capping the leak was in labor, Maxwell said.

The city will keep trying to make the devices work, Maxwell said.

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; samantha.ketterer@galvnews.com or on Twitter at @sam_kett

Locations

(23) comments

Steve Fouga

I'll expect to see a refund on my next water bill.

Bill Cochrane

In this time of computers and advanced monitoring devices you would think there would be a company that offered a computer program that would detect not only a city water supply leak, but the city’s water customers leaks as well. It would be pretty easy. Right now, the city water dept. can look up your meter and see the water flow in real time. It can give averages, etc. I assume the city has the ability of seeing the city’s water consumption as well. The computer program could monitor certain water accounts and compare the flow and report any odd conditions or variations. For instance, it would question why there was so much water flow at 4:00 am, compare the flow to all the meters, and determine there is water flowing that does not go through a meter. If there is not a company that offers this monitoring it should be formed.

Katherine Maxwell

Bill, this leak was located by using sonic testing (sound listening devices). We also have line cameras and metered check points.....just hard when it’s a line nobody knew we even had and especially one that broke inside of a storm drain (which we don’t allow water lines to pass through storm drains anymore). Usually a leak of any measurable size becomes apparent for obvious reasons (sinkholes etc). We have a sound firm on retainer and will be doing more work, such as this in the future as part of our water management program. - Brian

Bill Cochrane

Thanks, Brian. Looks like you are all over it. Shoulda known.
Keep up the good work.

Ron Shelby

Nice Job!

Michael Moriarty

So, who is in charge of monitoring system intake and output and what is the "acceptable" deviation level and what is the basis for this level that becomes a write-off expected to be shared by all metered consumers? Was this volume of "missing" asset known? Was it considered acceptable? How much of it was tied to the increases in water rates last year? There is nothing comical about this given the dollars involved. This entire process needs to be investigated and responsibility and accountability determined.

Katherine Maxwell

The loss does not impact the rate. It does impact total cost which could impact future rates. That overall cost of water to the city will now be reduced. This reduction will offset our increase in cost of water this year and possibly next year that is being passed on to us by GCWA. There was no increase this year and hopefully none next year despite escalating cost. Total water budget is $20,000,000 so this savings represents about 3%.

Since we started the water program a couple years ago we have been aggressively going after water loss in the system. This has been part and parcel of the replacement of the meters, the replacement and work on all of the valves and the rehab of all of our pumping and storage. We have annually been reducing loss and consumption since we started the program.

We used a leak detection service to locate this one and we are using it in other areas on the island and will continue to do so. This utilizes sound to detect leaks. For reference we have water loss mitigation in our capital improvement program of $300,000 to continue this program.

This particular find will put us below the average water loss for cities our size and age (Roughly 25-30%) which is how the industry standard is compared. The Gold Standard is in the 10-20% range and we will continue to work toward that goal. Keep in mind we operate a water system that is in excess of 100 years old in many places, so achieving these goals is no small measure.

In terms of who was responsible, what we have is a line that was abandoned in 1959 and capped that failed in a crossing inside a storm drain, well before we had the methods and means to detect such a break. I suspect if we were to research who was responsible for the routing and capping of the pipe, they would be deceased. Also to note is that our current design standards would never allow a potable water line to intersect and exist in an existing storm water system.

For reference we meter and monitor consumption daily. This number has been flat for the period that we have been able to monitor such activity, thus indicating no major leak during this period. Neither GCWA, our pump stations or any other means would pick this up outside of apparent leak issues normally seen (sink holes, water ponding, etc).

We are undertaking measures to correct these issues that have obviously existed for decades and are now finally being addressed to the citizens benefit. As with many issues facing the city, it takes time to correct issues that have festered or been neglected for, in this case, over 55 years. We are committed to getting these corrected. City council should be commended to allowing staff to undertake these projects and for cleaning up what has been years of deterioration and neglect.

Brian Maxwell

Gary Miller

Water sold is recorded by customers meters. Took a long time to find water sold was far less than water bought. No bureaucrat employed by the city smart enough to notice a lot of water bought was missing? Paying for missing water was added to customers bills. Paying for weak minded bureaucrats was added to customers bills. Take your pick. Both charges are the same thing. A defective bureaucratic system. The budgets of 60,000 federal bureaucracies are bloated by the same defect.

James Reeves

Sounds like the storm drain will be more effective now that it doesn't have to handle all that excess water. Has this area had problems with flooding after heavy rains?

Angelica Rendon

At which streets are the sinkholes located?

Stephanie Martin

Unbelievable that no one figured this out! How could the difference between what what was bought and sold go unnoticed?

Douglas Dupuis

"If that 3 million gallons a day reduction holds, the city will save $600,000 a year, Cook said."

This is BS! That quote needs to read as "If that 3 million gallons a day reduction holds, the city will RETURN $600,000 a year to all customers, Cook said.

It's time to stop all government fraud, waste and abuse. Return this money to the people and hold someone accountable. 3 million gallons a day! And it wasn't noticed...for YEARS!

Jim Forsythe

The city needs to buy something like a  Portable Transit Time Flow Meter. It would allow the city to get a base line for different time of day and night water use. At three AM, the flow should be at about the lowest of the day. If at that time it is showing a rate equal to serval  Million gallons a day, it  would indicate that a large loss of water is happening.
They could also use it to tell if each branch going to different parts of the city is using more water than usual.
 

David Schuler

Geez people. Read Brian's response. All cities have 'water loss' due to leaking mains. Already shows up as a difference between water bought and water sold. It's a common problem. This one was particularly difficult because it was leaking into a drain. Had it been leaking onto street, big difference. Stop complaining and learn some things about how municipal water systems actually work.

Steve Fouga

David, I think it's just because there's a general frustration with the Water Dept.

Jim Forsythe

David, yes all city's have loss, but if you can reduce the amount , you decrease the cost of the water. Would it be OK, to have a leak at your house of over 25% of your water use, starting  before 2011?
Was it OK to lose 3 million gallons a day, without knowing it was happening?
If they had set up a monitoring system , they would know very quickly, that they had a 3 Million gallon a day loss. 
There are ways to find leaks, once you know you have one.
Are there other big leaks in Galveston?

Remember, we had a drought going during the time this leak was going on, and we had rationing of water.
Water is becoming more valuable each day, as more people are moving into this area.

Loss control is important.
"With water resources being increasingly stressed due and growing populations, water utilities must become water-efficient throughout the entire supply process.  By employing improved methods of water auditing and loss control, water utilities have potential to reduce the large volumes of treated water that are lost to leakage, as well as to provide incentives to customers to optimize their water consumption.  Water Loss Control – water efficiency practices of water suppliers – is an emerging field of practice that should be better incorporated into the drinking water utility industry in order to ensure efficiency of safe drinking water, which is the backbone of civilized society."

.


Steve Fouga

I'm no hydrological engineer, but to me 3 million gallons per day sounds unfathomable. That's 35 gallons per second. Is that a normal loss? 2/3 of a barrel per second?

Really, 3 million gallons per day, for years? It's just starting to sink in. Sorry, but this sounds unforgivable. [angry][angry][angry][angry][angry]

Jim Forsythe

Steve, a 10 inch pipe can leak at maximum 3,000 gallons per minute.
 That's 180,000 gallons an hour, 1,080,000 gallons in six hours and in 24 hours 3,240,000 gallons. This leak was at almost at max. flow potential .
When they fixed this leak , it increase the pressure in the line. This was probably why 5 other leaks happen.

Bill Cochrane

I don't think Mr Maxwell is totally responsible, unless he hired the yahoo that runs the water dept. That's the person that should have noticed a leak of this magnitude.


Steve Fouga

I don't blame Mr Maxwell either. The leak has been there for years; Mr Maxwell for just a few. I'd be more likely to give him credit for finding the leak.

Katherine Maxwell

I will State again, we monitor losses daily. We have been working to reduce the delta.

Most likely this leak materialized before the city began buying (and paying for water) from GCWA. At that time they only monitored well output. Losses were high for a lot of reasons in that process.

When converted the GCWA then it was actually metered and the city monitored losses more closely. When I became city manager we began programs to reduce the delta. It has been improving and was at or near averages for a system our size and age. It actually has to be reported annually.

This will leap up ahead of most cities our size in water loss. Keep in mind, losses of water occur for many reasons including leaks, Transit loss and public uses (public irrigation, fire fighting, etc). T

he only way a leak such as this would have been obvious to anyone is if it occurred after the GCWA conversion. Then you would have seen the continued rise in the delta. Our baseline was constant as was our loss ratio.

Of course as water consumption drops, your loss ratio could theoretically increase due to being a bigger part of a smaller number. As our usage has declined since conservation measures have been initiated, it has really helped us to see things such as this and get them corrected.

If anyone was at fault, it was the guy that ran a potable water line through a storm drain and then tried to abandon it. He’s probably deceased now.

Water is an asset. This council and management team has been responsible enough to take on solving all asset related issues. Kudos for to our council for funding wate loss mitigation work and for continuing to attack issues that have plagued our tax payers for over 50 years. - Brian Maxwell

Gary Miller

Having some experience with bureaucracies I'd almost bet some low level employee{S} told supervisor{S} about the water loss every year since it started. Supervisors ignored them until they could get kudos for finding it.

Dwight Burns

Wow! What an expensive waste.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.