‘Chasing ghosts’: Unbilled water losses an ongoing problem

Discrepancies between how much drinking water the Niagara Region pumped into Fort Erie last year and how much revenue the Town collected to pay for that water resulted in a loss of just over $1.3 million.

At the July 8 council-in-committee meeting, staff provided councillors with the annual Non-Revenue Water report, which it has produced each year since 2016.

The report outlines losses that occur between the Region’s Rosehill treatment plant and homeowners’ water meters. It leaves the municipality on the hook for those costs.

“It seems like there’s a fair amount of treated water that we’re paying for that we’re not being reimbursed for,” said Mayor Wayne Redekop.

“Is there an explanation why those numbers haven’t gone down?”

In response, Kelly Walsh, the Town’s director of infrastructure services, said staff are working to reduce losses but that it’s a challenging task.

“We’re just chasing ghosts out there,” he said.

A leak as small as a pinhole can be nearly impossible to find, but over the course of a year Walsh said it can cause huge total amounts of water losses.

“The losses are a function of our aging infrastructure,” he said, on the same night council received its annual asset management plan that outlined the infrastructure gap in the municipality.

New pipes that are going in to expand the system are made with PVC pipes and high-quality gaskets, Walsh added.

Redekop suggested spending more money to reduce these losses could end up saving money in the long run.

Not all of the losses are the result of leaks and not all of the losses are unauthorized. Firefighting activities, water main commissioning and system flushing are all included in the total.

The problem lies in the unauthorized losses, which can come from leaks, water meter inaccuracies and illegal connections.

According to the staff report, real losses have fluctuated significantly, peaking last year at 1,710 megalitres.

“Contributing to the increase in 2022 and 2023 are service leaks and watermain breaks associated with the winter storm in December 2022,” the report said.

It went on to say staff are prioritizing the issue, introducing “new leak detection correlator and geophone equipment along with enhancements to the Smart Hydrant software.”

The $1.3 million price tag in 2023 was a $71,000 increase from the previous year.

“The increase in the cost of Non-Revenue Water by 5.4 per cent is mainly associated with the increase from the previous year in Variable Production Cost of 4.9 per cent and the Customer Retail Unit Charge increase of 6.4 per cent,” the report said.

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