Water was on tap at Tuesday night’s Upper Sandusky City Council meeting.
City officials reported there was a combination of five water main breaks and water line leaks in a four-day period last week in the North Warpole Street area.
Councilman Chad Smith, chairman of the city’s service committee, reported the first main break happened Thursday in the 400 block of North Warpole Street. That was followed by a water line leak on a neighboring property Friday. Another break was reported Saturday morning near Wyandot Avenue.
City officials believe the Saturday morning break was caused by a lightning strike.
“Lighting struck the fill meter on the water tower, which tells the pump to pump water in and not pump water in,” Smith said. “The meters switched to the new water tower, which in turn put a 2-million gallon pump to the new water tower, so the pump would fill up and shut off until it drained down and shut back on and filled up again. There was a lot of pulsating pressure in the system, which may have contributed (to the main break) near Subway (restaurant at the corner of Wyandot Avenue and Warpole Street). That happened right after that.”
Also this weekend, there were water main breaks on Bigelow and North Fourth streets.
“There were five leaks in four days,” Mayor Scott Washburn said. “… It shut businesses down. … The Village (Family Restaurant), Los Arcos, the Moose, We Luv Yogurt, Pennzoil, they all had no water. It keeps happening more and more, so I am looking to try to find some options. … The lines have been bad for a long time, but we thought we could get 10 more years out of them to replace everything at once, but I don’t know that we’re going to get there.”
Also Tuesday, representatives from HD Supply, of Ashland, talked to city council members about automated water meter reading devices. Currently, residential water meters are read once a month by hand. The automated devices would read the meters electronically every hour. The information would be transmitted over a radio frequency to a database in the water department office.
“You’ll be able to save on labor (costs) on your meter reading, but you’re still going to have to have some kind of a serviceman out there for trouble shooting, for investigating high (water) usages for customers and also to do installs if you have any expansion or replacing old meters or meters that have failed,” HD Supply representative Lee Conwell said. “You’ll always have a presence out there in the field even though you’re not walking through town reading meters.”
According to city officials, some of the meters currently being used in homes throughout the city are as old as 30 years and need to be replaced.
Tom Stalter, a representative from Poggemeyer Design Group, the Bowling Green engineering firm hired by the city to design and oversee the project to replace water lines in the city’s northeast quadrant, estimates it would cost about $1.2 million to replace water meters throughout the city. The project would pay for itself in seven to 10 years with the revenue the city would see from having more accurate readings, Stalter said.
“One of the biggest complaints we have been getting is we are doing the round-up (water billing),” Washburn said. “This would give you the actual reading and (customers) would pay for what they are actually using.”
“If somebody used 3,500 gallons of water, they would be billed for 3,500 gallons instead of waiting until it rounds up to 4,000 and we would be more accurate that way,” Upper Sandusky Water Plant Supervisor Dave Westbrook added. “One thing that I like about the (automated reading system is) you can bill on the exact 30-day or 31-day bill cycle.”
Westbrook said about 32 percent of the city’s water consumption is unaccounted for for several reasons, one of which is old meters that have slowed down over the years.
“We’re treating 800,000 gallons (of water) a day,” Westbrook said. “… The slow meters aren’t where you’re hurting. A meter 5 percent slow over what you use or I use is small, but 5 percent on a manufacturer is huge, like at Kimmel Cleaners, which uses 1 million gallons a month, or Guardian (Industries). Those are the ones that hit us.”
Stalter said he will add the option of replacing meters to a plan for the water line replacement project Poggemeyer currently is drawing up for the Environmental Protection Agency and look into funding options for the project. The city has been awarded a $1 million 0-percent interest loan from the Ohio Public Works Commission and a $3.5 million 2-percent interest loan from the Ohio EPA for the water line replacement project.
“When your (current water) meters went in, people were using eight-track players,” Stalter said. “Now, we’re using iPods and everything else. It’s a different world out there in the utility business and (replacing) the (water) meters is something you are going to have to do eventually. It’s going to make your system more efficient. You’ll have real-time data, real-time information that you can react to quickly. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I don’t know any community that hasn’t been happy they did it.”
The automated meter reading devices also would allow the city’s water department to provide better customer service. An option that could be added would allow customers to monitor their water usage online on their home computers.
“The customer service side is one thing that I like about it,” Westbrook said. “I can count many times you go to somebody’s house and they have a leak and they end up with a $600, $700 or $800 water bill and it’s just a toilet stuck wide open or a broken line in the basement that people don’t know about. If you can stop that, it’s worth it.
“Now if someone has a high water (bill) complaint, the first thing I do is call up (to the water billing office) and have (a staff member) print off their consumption for the last three years,” he added. “I have to go and get it or (the water office employee) either has to fax it or email it to me. … With the new system, I would always have that information right at my finger tips (on a computer).”
City council members will review the information from the hour-long presentation by HD Supply representatives and make a decision in the coming weeks about whether to add automated water meter reading devices throughout the city. Council members also plan to visit Gahanna, a suburb of Columbus, to see its newly installed automated meter reading system at work.
In other business, city council passed the first reading of a resolution to authorize the mayor to apply for funds from the OPWC State Capital Improvement and Local Transportation Improvement programs for road repairs on South Eighth Street to be completed in 2014.
“It’s for Eighth Street from Wyandot (Avenue) to just past Fairhaven (Community at 850 S. Marseilles Ave.),” Washburn said. “They will grind out the road and we are going to put a mat down for semi truck traffic to keep it from getting to where it is now, how is doesn’t hold up.”
The grant would fund 80 percent of the project, with the city paying the remaining 20 percent of the cost, which Washburn said will total $100,000.
“You’ll get all new road and new handicap exits and entrances by each corner,” the mayor said.
The next city council meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17.
Fall clean-up in the city is set for Sept. 24-28.
By CHANDA NEELY