Installation of new meters expected to help alleviate water-loss problem

Oakland Public Works Director Harvey Ellis said recently that the installation of new water meters will help alleviate the town’s problem with unaccounted-for water.
He noted that the Water Department will install as many new meters this year as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will allow him to purchase. Although 3,000 are needed, he said 1,100 have already been installed.
Ellis made the comments during his monthly report at the board’s Jan. 15 meeting in response to questions by Alderman Kelly Rector. He also said he got “some news” earlier that day about the possibility of a grant or a low-interest loan.
“So, that would be a factor,” he acknowledged. “If that’s the route that you guys want to go, I’d like to purchase them all and get them all done.”
In response to another question by Rector, Ellis said the cost of the meters yet to be installed should be “about the same,” because it is “pretty standard material.”
“This would also help with the validity score and the water loss and the issue we’re having there,” he added. “That would really go a long way toward alleviating that problem.”
During her monthly financial report at the meeting, Town Recorder Tammie Hightower said Oakland will again be reported to the Tennessee Utility Board for loss of water. She noted that the town submitted the American Water Works Association reports to the auditing firm, which examined the Oakland Water and Sewer Department records for the previous fiscal year.
She said there are some things within the department’s “billing and cutoff processes” that she considers “very unfair.” One of them is that no minimum monetary amount has ever been established to which a “late penalty or cutoff” would apply.
“It just does not seem fair to put a $20 penalty on somebody with a $2 balance,” she noted. “I can’t rationalize that.”
Hightower also said Oakland has traditionally set the 10th of the month as the date when customers’ bill payments are due, and she believes that needs to be revised.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, the board unanimously passed an ordinance on first reading that would establish billing procedures and rates for water and sewer. The proposed ordinance is scheduled for final reading at tomorrow night’s meeting.
Because each of Oakland’s previous administrations basically “came up with its own policy,” Hightower said the customers feel that “the rules keep changing.”
While noting that many of the procedures were established in 1991 or ’92, she said they have not been reviewed since 1999. In response to a question by Alderman John Troncone, Hightower said a 34-percent water loss amounts to slightly more than 81 million gallons.
“You’re always going to have some unaccounted-for water,” she acknowledged. “But this is way outside of what the state allows.”
Hightower cited the following as reasons for the loss:
(1) unauthorized removal of water from the town’s fire hydrants;
(2) a “master meter” that is “10-percent off;”
(3) town-owned buildings not billed for their water usage;
(4) no meters installed in the Water Department;
(5) the Fire Department not reporting its water usage to the Water Department; and
(6) no documentation of water main leaks.
Mayor Chris Goodman has said that, during the past several years, there was a change in the state law that specifies how much municipalities are allowed to show as a loss, and it is getting “progressively smaller.”
“We’re coming up on another big turn where what they’ll allow goes from 20 percent to 15 percent,” he noted. “So, a lot of it is really just getting more attention as that law goes forward.”
Hightower said the AWWA reports are based on a municipality’s water loss in relation to its operating costs.
“If you spend more than you’re bringing in by your bills, you’re in trouble,” she noted. “And we are there.”
Hightower said that, in 2012, the state put a “whole different set of requirements” on water departments. So, when municipalities start entering the data, they end up with what is called a “validity score.”
“You have to have a 70 right now at a minimum,” she noted, “and I think we are at a 64. To know, you would have to look at it and see how they pull all this together. But we don’t look good.”