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News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 16, 2014
Problems with the meters
Clues to Stonington’s disappearing water

by Rich Hewitt

Officials at the Stonington Water Company may have stumbled onto a clue to explain the regular disappearance of at least a portion of the millions of gallons of water that has gone missing from the system over the past several years.

The water loss continued during the third quarter. Water usage was 4,526,450 gallons, but the metered consumption of water was just 2,553,537 gallons, a difference of about 1.9 million gallons, or about 43 percent unmetered, according to Annaleis Hafford, an engineer with Olver Associates Inc., who also serves as the manager of the Stonington Water Company. That’s less than in the fourth quarter last year, when the loss rate was about 56 percent, but still a major discrepancy between the amount of water pumped into the system and the amount that the company is being paid for.

Part of the problem may lie with the old meters that measure the water flow to customers, according to Hafford. Those meters have been suspect and, since Olver took over the management of the water company last spring, they have been working to test and replace some of the meters. During a routine installation of a bleeder meter at a local residence, she said, they noticed that the house meter was not registering the water that was being run through the bleeder.

“The meter was sluggish,” she said. “It was not reading flows less than a quarter of a gallon per minute.”

At that rate, said one of the selectmen, who serve as the directors of the water company, a simple toilet flush would not register on the meter.

Hafford said they have found stopped meters during the process of inspecting meters during the past several months and have identified about 15 sites where they need to repair or replace existing meters. She said they already have ordered 20 new 5/8-inch meters and a new 2-inch meter for Billings Diesel that will be installed in the spring.

“I believe there is a lot of water that’s not being measured,” she said. “This may explain some of our discrepancies.”

Meanwhile, the water company staff has been dealing with problems in the systems, some of them caused by the cold weather that froze a number of pipes around town. The main problem, however, was with the pump on the 110 well that caused the pumping volume to drop from 20 gallons per minute to four gallons per minute. When the pump was removed from the well, Hafford said, they discovered that the impellor had chewed itself up and there was a hole in the galvanized piping that the pump was connected to.

Hafford said they had discussed the problem with Frank Hagerty, a consultant who has worked on the system in the past, and he indicated that if the pump was too large, it could cause “upflow” at the impellor and cause the kind of damage they had found. They determined that the 7.5 horsepower pump was far too large for the system, and decided to replace it with a smaller, 5 horsepower pump, which should provide the flow rate needed without causing the kind of damage they discovered. But, she said, there were still problems with the flow into the pump house.

Hagerty was expected to return this week to inspect the system for several issues that could be causing the flow rate problem.

Because of the lack of water from the 110 well, the water company crew has intermittently turned on the summer wells to maintain water level in the standpipe. The level has been maintained at about 40 feet, much better than last winter when water levels dropped to around 15 feet at one point. The crew turned on the summer pumps three times in December, pumping a total of 237,000 gallons, and once so far in January, pumping a total to date of 88,000 gallons.