Checking Up on Waste in a Metered City

Checking Up on Waste in a Metered City

Importance of Water Waste Survey—Meters Must Be Carefully Maintained—Handling Complaints of Overcharges by Consumers

Hubert P. T. Matte

THE question of water waste is one of supreme importance and the problem by no means ends when the department is 100 per cent, metered. The detecting of leaks from the distribution system, the careful maintenance of meters after they have been set and the efficient operation of the collection in the accounting departments will have a bearing upon the important matter. The following article analyzes the subject carefully and treats it from many standpoints:

It is the object of this article to discuss some of the elements which have a decided bearing upon the prevention of waste in a water system which is supposed to be completely metered. It is not sufficient to install meters and expect the consumption to remain at a minimum. In the course of an extensive study of the water problem, covering a number of years, the writer has arrived at the conclusion that available corrective measures may be usefully summarized under the following headings:

  1. —Water waste surveys.
  2. —One hundred per cent, meterage, and the efficient maintenance of meters.
  3. —Efficient collection and accounting departments.

Water Waste Survey

In addition to general water waste surveys, undertaken by specialists engaged for the purpose, the water department should maintain this service by systematically testing out certain districts by means of master meters distributed at critical points in the system, to permit of segregation. These meters should be of the pitot-tube type to allow easy insertion into any size main.

The night rate of flow is a proper barometer of waste, and a certain percentage of the average daily consumption should be set as a maximum, after making suitable deduction for legitimate consumption through service meters. This is assuming that all services are metered, and that all meters are in good working order.

In these studies it is not necessary to read small domestic meters, but it will be profitable to glance over the meter accounts in the district, in order to detect the premises which should be considered in the determination of night waste.

The places which have a “leakage consumption” can easily be detected by the high bills. As a small leak will consume more water than can be used for domestic purposes the bills will readily yield the necessary information.

The general survey should be followed by a “sound survey.” This will comprise a visit to each fire hydrant with an “aquaphone” or water phone. This should be followed by an inspection of each service with the same instrument.

On small systems, it is possible to depend upon the meter reader to report unusual sounds, if the meter is located in the basement.

It is well known among water works men who have had the necessary experience that the pitch of the sound caused by running water through various orifices of different size and shape will nearly always vary appreciably, and an expert can judge the nature and volume of the leak by sound only.

The fact that the leak may be under ground will be indicated by the pitch, and this will vary with the character of the soil and the metal of the pipe, as for instance, lead, or steel (or iron).

It should be remembered that all this work will be unnecessary in a district where the night rate or minimum flow has been shown by the preliminary tests to be less than the alloted maximum.

Maximum Leakage Rate

What should be the maximum leakage rate?

If you adopt the method of computing the leakage per mile of main, or per mile per inch in diameter, you are considering the joints only, and ignoring the services.

If you assume a certain limit per capita, you are in a similar way ignoring the services.

One service leak or blown out joint in a main, would render all such assumptions useless, and the best method is to subdivide districts at night, or in the day time in the afternoon, in residential sections, and note the minimum drop in consumption. In the ideal system with no fixture leakage, service leakage, or joint leakage, the minimum would be zero, but the ideal condition never does exist, and some compromise must be effected.

The writer has found that a low domestic COBsumption of 40 gallons per capita can be obtained in any water system with the methods of maintenance outlined in this article, even if the system contains a majority of high class residences, all provided with sanitary facilities.

“The writer is of the opinion that whereever possible, sufficient money should be appropriated to permit of the installation of meters on all services, even in the case of public buildings, hospitals, etc., where actual charges against the consumer may not be made; thus making it possible to keep an accurate record of all water used.”

The unaccounted for consumption, of course, depends upon the extent of meterage, and the extent of the system, regardless of the population. The available main pressure at the point of leakage also has an appreciable effect upon the waste.

“One of the most valuable adjuncts to any water supply department is an efficient complaint bureau, whose function it should be not only to deal with complaints as they are made, but to educate the public as to their proper co-operation in reducing the number of causes for complaints.”

Percentage of Unaccounted-for Water to Domestic Consumption

Coming down to concrete figures, the writer estimates that the unaccounted-for water s/hould not exceed twenty per cent, of the domestic consumption. Industrial uses and waste should be computed separately, as the water consumption depends entirely upon local conditions and can usually be separated. As a matter of fact, the writer would determine the proper rate of unaccounted-for water from the number of service connections and mains, by reference to the standard number of gallons per day, per service, as for instance, a minimum rate of flow during periods of “no useful consumption” of50 gallons per day, per service.

It should be understood that the proper meter to be used for the above purpose is a rate meter, such as a Pitometer.

After the general survey with the Pitometer has been made, the system can be divided, where the need has been indicated, into such small districts as can be confined to the section between two main valves, in which a fire hydrant is accessible. The small unit can then be fed through this hydrant by means of an ordinary fire hose, from a point on the pressure side, outside of the section.

By this method, the flow of water into the main to be tested can be observed through a Pitometer, inserted into a small pipe. The size of the pipe depends upon the normal flow, but as we are using firehose a two-inch pipe will provide enough velocity to determine worth while leakage with a Pitometer. Instead of a Pitometer, a two-inch Venturi meter with five-eight-inch throat, can be used successfully. In this case, a barometric manometer can be pressed into the service.

Determining State of System Under Observation

The meter can thus indicate at a glance, the state of the system under observation. If the leakage is abnormal, such as would be caused by one or two service pipe blowouts, or a joint leak in the main, which is not sufficiently pronounced to cause a disturbance oh the surface, or which has disappeared into the sewer, and only 600 to 1,000 feet of main are under test, the fire hose will not supply enough water, and the pressure will drop considerably. In this case, it will be necessary to throttle the valve of the meter and observe the flow at a pressure which will permit the readings to come within the limits of the manometer divisions.

One or two service leaks at 45 pounds main pressure will cause the minimum flow to be about 500 gallons per day per service. Six service leaks may give as much as 1,500 gallons per day. per service.

If there are no services on the main under test, there should be no leakage indicated on the meter, as the normal joint leakage is negligible.

The above is confirmed by the results of several investigations made by the writer in different parts of the country and under different conditions of climate in which he found that the joint leakage, apart from blowouts was negligible and did not seriously affect the consumption.

Breaks, blowouts, service and fixture leakage, can readily be detected by means of a waste survey. It is to account for fixture and service pipe leakage in a metered system that 50 gallons per day, per service, has been assumed to be the minimum rate of consumption in determining when to look for leaks.

Meterage and Meter Maintenance

Considering the second item. One hundred per cent, meterage would require that all water delivered to the system should be metered at the point of distribution; no matter where located; including water for municipal buildings, watering troughs, drinking fountains, street sprinklers, fire hydrants and the construction of buildings.

Complete metering would permit of a balanced account of water delivered to the system and the water distributed, and is perhaps an ideal which is not often possible of absolute attainment; but an intelligent use of estimates to cover those cases where metering is not practicable, will enable the amount of water actually delivered, and the amount wasted in distribution to be closely approximated, and a basis formed for further investigation as to the amount of wastage on the premises of the consumer.

On the other hand, the writer is of the opinion that wherever possible, sufficient money should be appropriated to permit of the installation of meters on all services, even in the case of public buildings, hospitals, etc., where actual charges against the consumer may not be made; thus making it possible to keep an accurate record of all water used.

“The experience of electric lighting companies with flat rates and similar methods of charging, is well known, and the desire to burn lamps, simply for the sake of burning them, just because it does not cost the consumer anything extra to do so, seems to be more or less universal, and similar conditions exist in connection with the use of water.”

In public buildings excessive leakage and carelessness in use is very prevalent, as it is also in the case of fire hydrants, which are often used for other than their legitimate purposes, where no check is kept upon consumption.

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Accurate meter records make it possible to bring the conditions to the attention of the responsible officials, in definite form, with a view to obtaining their co-operation in the correction of the abuses.

Where water is charged for building construction. on any other basis than the actual amount used, as recorded by a meter, water is often used in a most careless and extravagant manner.

Selective Metering Depends Upon Inspection

In many cities, selective metering has been adopted, to save expense, but its value depends to a large extent upon the degree of control and inspection which is maintained. In any event, it is a matter of common experience that methods of charging which are not based upon an exact record of the water used, or as is often the case, wasted, are conducive of extravagant use and carelessness on the part of the consumer.

The experience of electric lighting companies with fiat rates and similar methods of charging, is well known, and the desire to burn lamps, simply for the sake of burning them, just because it does not cost the consumer anything extra to do so, seems to be more or less universal, and similar conditions exist in connection with the use of water.

In connection with the above, it may be of interest to note that in the case of one water supply system which the writer investigated and which was only 28 per cent, metered, an extended survey indicated that the fixture leakage averaged 205 gallons per day, per capita.

Contrary to what is probably the general opinion among those not thoroughly familiar with the subject, underground leakage accounts for only a small part of the total waste, but the fact that small leaks exist on the premises and that people often become so accustomed to the sound of leaky fixtures that they cease to pay much attention to them do undoubtedly account for a great deal of loss. In a metered system, however, where other sources of leakage are reduced to a minimum, the underground leakage becomes of greater relative importance.

Importance of Maintenance of Meters

The maintenance of meters is of the utmost importance and is a matter which often does not receive the attention which it deserves. Adequate inspection and supervision of meters costs money, and the satisfactory condition of the meter is too often taken for granted; but, perhaps no investment will pay better returns than a reasonable amount of money spent to insure accurate metering, as correct records of the amount of water supplied should form the basis, not only of improvements in methods for the elimination of waste, but also, of all matters in dispute with the customer.

Meters should be inspected as soon as possible after being reported out of order. Faulty conditions of the meter can be detected by readings, supplemented by observations of the meter reader. All suspicious variations in readings, both high and low, should be investigated promptly.

Periodical tests of meters should be made at least every five years, and such practice has been found to disclose many unsuspected defects, and sometimes brings to light tampering on the part of the consumer.

Efficient Collection and Accounting Department

Under the above heading we will consider also complaint and other departments which deal with matters pertaining to the sale of water to the consumer.

One of the most valuable adjuncts to any water supply department is an efficient complaint bureau, whose function it should be not only to deal with complaints as they are made, but to educate the public as to their proper co-operation in reducing the number of causes for complaints.

As a large majority of complaints are due to supposed overcharge for water used, this article will deal almost exclusively with conditions such as they exist in cities where all water used by the consumer is metered and charged for accordingly.

In places where the water is charged at a flat rate and the water department has to bear the burden of all waste and excessive use, the consumer as a rule takes little interest in the matter of consumption, and as long as he gets all the water he wants, when he wants it, he is not likely to furnish much work for a complaint department, but where he is charged with all water delivered to his premises he is likely to keep a complaint department busy, and the maintenance of satisfactory relationship between the water department and the public will depend to a large degree upon the manner in which the complaint department does its work.

“Unwavering insistence on the payment of high bills in full, where no error has been found to exist in the amount, is of great importance, and the utmost care should be taken not to create a precedence for laxity in this respect.”

Although a firm and consistent policy is absolutely necessary in dealing with complaints, all public service institutions which have been fortunate enough to gain the good will of the public, have based their methods on the principle that “The public is always right.” That is, that it should be assumed that anyone making a complaint, does it in the full belief that he is justified in doing so, and that he has some good reason for his belief. He should therefore, be looked upon as a subject for enlightenment, rather than rebuff, and every care should be taken to convince him of his mistake, if such it is.

It is equally important that in case it should be found that a mistake has really been made, in the charge, it should be corrected without delay, and with the utmost willingness. In no event should the customer be made to feel that he must fight for what has been clearly shown to be his rights.

Insist on Payment of High Bills, If No Error

On the other hand, unwavering insistence on the payment of high bills in full, where no error has been found to exist in the amount, is of great importance, and the utmost care should be taken not to create a precedence for laxity in this respect.

In almost every case of dispute, the claim will be made that the meter is wrong, and it is very important that all meters should be inspected at sufficiently frequent intervals, and that the public should receive assurance that as far as possible everything is being done to insure the accuracy of meters.

Too often meters are neglected to such an extent, that the department cannot justify, even to itself, the claim that they are being kept in good order, and in view of the fact that the accuracy of the meter forms the basis for the correctness of all charges, the importance of the matter cannot well be over estimated.

Another valuable feature, in addition to the periodical inspections referred to above, is the frequent reading of meters, and the rendering of bills accordingly. By this means the consumer is promptly advised of any abnormal conditions and his attention drawn to excessive use, before the charges have added up to a serious amount.

All Meters Read at Least Four Times a Year

All meters should be read at least four times a year, and all suspicious variations from the normal, both high and low, should be investigated promptly, and any meters reported stopped or otherwise defective should receive immediate attention. Meter readers should be instructed to observe and report all indications of defects in the meters, and such reports should be acted upon without delay.

“The seriousness of a leak of half a gallon a minute is seldom realized by the layman, but a simple calculation will show that such a loss amounts to 720 gallons a day, or a rate of 262,800 gallons per year.”

With a view to instructing the public in the economical use of water, the complaint department should be in possession of complete data as to the different causes of waste, and should devise effective methods for educating the consumer.

In a department under the supervision of the writer, the backs of bills were utilized for calling attention to some of the most common sources of waste and their correction, and this method was supplemented by a liberal use of personal letters, where conditions warranted it.

It has been found to be an excellent plan to instruct meter readers to report all suspicious sounds of running water, to the office, but to leave the question of advising the consumer to the office staff.

In cases of excessive consumption and apparent leaks, an inspector should visit the premises before the matter is brought to the attention of the consumer, as it has been found that where he is advised of the conditions before an inspection is made, he will, in some cases, have the leaks repaired and claim that the fault is in the meter, as when the inspector arrives upon the scene there are no leaks discoverable.

It should be part of the duties of the complaint bureau to instruct the public as to the different causes of high bills, indicating waste and excessive use of water.

Among the most common causes of waste are the following: Leaky toilets, broken underground pipes in basement, dripping faucets, use of water motors, pumps and ejectors operated by water power, defective stop and waste cocks, leaking valves, water used for cooling food, water run an unnecessary length of time in order to obtain cool drinks, or to procure hot water from defective heaters, children and others leaving faucets open, lawn sprinkling with hose without nozzles, the flushing of toilets after use for purposes for which they were not designed, such as garbage receptacles, leakage through tanks in attics, allowing water to run continuously to prevent freezing, permitting water to run constantly into tubs and lavatories for washing purposes, instead of filling the basins or tubs before using.

A careful consideration of the results of some of the above, may afford useful and perhaps somewhat startling information, and we will discuss one or two cases.

In the case of defective toilets, it is not uncommon to find them leaking from one-eighth to one-half a gallon a minute.

Seriousness of Small Leaks Not Realized

The seriousness of a leak of half a gallon a minute is seldom realized by the layman, but a simple calculation will show that such a loss amounts to 720 gallons a day, or a rate of 262,800 gallons per year. If we assume that five per cent, of the toilets leak on an average, one-eighth of a gallon per minute, and that one toilet serves five people, the average loss of water from this cause would reach the astonishing amount of over thirteen millions of gallons per annum, per thousand inhabitants, or to be exact, 13,140,000.

The calculations relative to faulty toilets, apply in a large degree to leaky faucets, with the added factor that they are generally more numerous and more often neglected.

Excessive use of water for bathing may account for the consumption of large quantities of water. The writer has found through investigations, that the average family will consume for the above purpose about seventy five per cent, as much water as is used by the toilets, provided the toilets are in good condition, but a person who takes a cold bath every morning will very likely consume forty gallons a day for this purpose. In connection with this, it is interesting to note that where the pressure is low, and the tub takes a comparatively long time to fill, much less water is generally used than when the pressure is high and the tub fills rapidly.

Sound Best Indicator of Leaks

Sound is really the best indicator of leaks, and it is of importance that this fact be fully impressed upon the consumer, together with the serious effect of even small leaks when they are left for any length of time.

It is important that the fact should always be kept in mind that the proper function of a water department is to sell service, and not merely to sell water, and the interests of the department and those of the consumer should be mutual.

Every opportunity should be taken advantage of to assure the public that they will receive fair treatment and courteous consideration of all complaints, and that the department exists for their service rather than merely as a money-making proposition.

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If the confidence of the public can once be gained, it is a comparatively easy matter to carry out an effective educational campaign with a view to instructing consumers in the proper use of water, and the reliability of methods in force for making charges, but as long as the public is suspicious and unfriendly, any efforts which may be made with a view to establishing more satisfactory conditions will be subjected to a severe and unnecessary handicap.

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