By David Cruz
Water, water everywhere, and, increasingly, less and less to drink, as water utilities around the state lose millions of gallons of treated water every day to leaky mains, general waste and theft, according to a state audit. It’s a big problem and it’s costing you money. How big a problem? United Water, one of the state’s largest water utilities, lost more than a quarter of the water that would have ordinarily gone to customers.
“It’s gone back into the ground, so if it came back out again, it would have to be treated again, so it is a waste,” says Stefanie Brand, director of New Jersey’s Division of Rate Counsel, which advocates for rate payers. “Actually this is a problem we’ve been having for a very long time. We’ve been pushing the utilities to make the repairs, but the problem is it costs a lot of money.”
Every day, crews from United Water are on the hunt for leaks. Today on Gorge Road in Cliffside Park, a water main leak is spilling water onto the street. Crews have identified the spot and have begun the big dig.
“We got a call early this morning saying there was water running in the street. Inspectors responded with emergency personnel, pinpointed the leak and now we’re here to make the repairs,” said Jack McNaughton, system maintenance superintendent for United Water.
United Water is not the only utility that loses water. In fact, several others lose a higher percentage, but, as one of the state’s largest water system operators, they lose the most total water, more than 10 million gallons last year. It cost them $3 million, an amount that gets passed on to rate payers.
“No matter what system you have, every system around the country is going to lose water, naturally,” notes Steve Goudsmith. “You’re going to have some leaks, you’re gonna have some water main breaks, but our job is to fix those leaks when we find them, so not only are we looking for those leaks or seeing leaks occur but we’re actually detecting leaks before they occur. We’re looking inside the ground and using advanced technology”.
Goudsmith says United Water is taking part is a state program that allows them to impose a surcharge on rate payers that will help the company better prioritize and plan for maintenance and repairs without having to go to the Board of Public Utilities for a big rate increase. That’s little consolation to rate payers, who always have to foot the bill. The industry standard is about 15 percent, according to Brand. Getting to there from here, however, is a project that is ongoing.