Leak-detection surveys save water, money for Cranberry

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 10:36 p.m.

In the late 1990s, Cranberry lost about 15 percent of its water to leaks.

Today, the township loses about 5 percent.

Township officials aggressively search for leaks by listening for them, and they'll conduct their annual fall survey until Oct. 18.

The township conducts a second survey each spring.

“This saves hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of gallons of water each year,” said Joseph Leavens, manager of the township's sewer and water operations.

Checking for leaks is labor intensive. Leavens and his crew spend about six weeks each year doing it.

“The spring and fall are the best time to listen for leaks,” he said.

“You can't do it if it's raining. You can't do it if there's a lot of wind because you will not be able to hear anything.”

The crews use sonic equipment to listen at main, live valves and at the township's 1,100 fire hydrants.

“Most of Cranberry's water system is duct line or cast iron. They transmit the sound of a water leak very well,” Leavens said.

If crews hear the sound of a water leak, they determine whether the leak is on township or private property. Property owners are notified and are given several weeks to fix the leak.

“Fixing a leak is not optional. All ratepayers pay for leaks,” Leavens said.

During the past five years, township workers have discovered about 30 leaks.

Cranberry gets its water from the West View Water Authority.

The township uses about 880 million gallons of water each year.

According to the United States Geological Survey, domestic water use in the United States is 29.4 billion gallons per day.

Average domestic water use per person is 98 gallons per day.

Water loss is greater in older water systems than in a modern system like Cranberry's, said John Brosious, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.

“You see much more loss in older systems,” he said.

“You are losing a product you have already put money into by treating it. Lost water is reflected in bills and water rates.”

Water leaks also can be a public safety issue, he said.

“Any time you have leaks, you run the risk of sinkholes and other collapses,” he said.

Leaking water also damages pavement, causes icing problems and damages utilities, said Ed Osann, team leader for water efficiency at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Utilities need to be more proactive about stopping leaks. Lots of utilities in the northeast and Midwest have substantial water losses. There are utilities in Pennsylvania that are losing 25 or 30 percent of their water,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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