Meters Advocated to Curtail Water Waste in Chicago

Meters Advocated to Curtail Water Waste in Chicago

The very high per capita consumption of water in the city of Chicago, Ill., indicating an enormous waste of water, has been the subject of considerable public discussion and a campaign for the adoption of meters, this being strongly urged by City Engineer John Ericson. His efforts are being strongly backed up by a report recently issued by the Chicago Bureau of Public Efficiency and in a campaign for meters by the Chicago Association of Commerce. Mr. Ericson recently lectured before the association on this subject. The Bureau of Public Efficiency recommends universal meterage as the remedy and the report states the director of the Bureau consulted with John W. Alvord, and that he concurs in the conclusions reached, relating to water waste and meterage. The Bureau gives City Engineer Ericson credit for his efforts to secure meterage, saying the city engineer and other administrative officials for more than fifteen years have been urging the city council to authorize metering as the only means by which permanent relief from waste and leakage and the resultant inefficient service and financial loss, can be obtained. The mayor and aldermen, however, have thus far failed to support these appeals in anything like an adequate manner.

Water Waste and Leakage and Their Prevention.

The Chicago water supply is drawn from Lake Michigan and is delivered to 300,000 taps, serving approximately 2,500,000 people with over 600,000,000 gallons of water a day, a daily average of 259 gallons for every man, woman and child in the city. Notwithstanding the unlimited quantity of water close at hand and unusually favorable conditions for its distribution, there are complaints of a shortage of water and of insufficient pressure in various sections, and the report says the inadequacy of the water supply is not due to any lack of pumping equipment, but is due entirely to the vast amount of water lost through waste and leakage and it makes the point that in a general way it is known that only about 40 per cent, of the water pumped in Chicago is used in the sense that it is consumed for some purpose for which water is necessary or has a real value, and that the remaining 60 per cent, is lost in one way or another, through waste and leakage.

Extent of Preventable Waste and Leakage.

It is believed, the report says, that if effective waste control measures are adopted, the pumpage per person can be reduced to 125 gallons per day.

Methods of Reducing Waste and Leakage.

There are, it proceeds, two methods of controlling waste on consumers’ premises: one by frequent house-to-house inspection, and the other is by the installation of meters. House to house inspections, it says are never completely effective and are expensive and uneconomical and produce only temporary results.


Metering, on the other hand, is effective and the results obtained by it are permanent. Considering that its cost is about the same as for house-to-house inspections, it is therefore, by far, the more economical method. It is also the equitable way to apportion water charges, since each consumer pays for the water that he takes and no more. It is significant that cities in which meters have been installed have not gone back to former methods, the meters having proved satisfactory, both to the municipality and to the consumers. Milwaukee and Cleveland are cited as typical examples. The opposition to metering, the report points out, is due largely to prejudice and to a lack of information as to the results which follow the installation of meters. There is a generally prevalent belief that meters result in restricting the customary use of water, or that, in the absence of such restricted use, water bills will be increased and to this it says that experience has demonstrated, however, that where meters have been introduced, they neither restrict the use of water nor increase water bills. They produce results, not by restricting usage, but by reventing waste and leakage. It should e clearly understood that preventing waste and leakage, means reducing so far as practicable, the loss of water through leakage and other causes, and that it does not mean curtailing or restricting any person in his accustomed use of water. What is desired, is to stop pumping and distributing an enormous volume of water that is of no use to any one. It is neither necessary nor desirable to restrict the use of water. It should be supplied in abundance and its use encouraged. With practically every consumer exercising care to eliminate waste, water can be furnished so cheaply that no one need think of restricting the amount of which he can make any use. Metering is advocated for Chicago, partly because it is the most effective means of insuring an abundant supply under sufficient pressure to enable all consumers to obtain, promptly, and at all times, the water which they require and are entitled to for their legitimate uses. Such a condition has never existed in Chicago. Experience also shows that where rates are properly adjusted, meters do not result in increasing water bills in the majority of cases.


Cut Down the Per Capita Consumption of Water from 259 Gallons to 125 Gallons Per Day.

The Money Saving in ThirtyThree Years would be $135,000,000.

In Ten Years the Saving would be $7,600,000.

Meters Produce Results not by Restricting Usage, but by Preventing Waste and Leakage.

A Daily Saving of 330,000,000 Gallons—More than the Combined Supply of Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland and St. Louis.

The Dailv Pumpage is 645,000,000 Gallons, Fourteen per cent. More than the Entire Supply of Greater New York City, with More than Double the Population of Chicago.

Sixty per cent, of the Water ‘ Pumped i n Chicago is Lost Through Waste and Leakage.

Pumpage Cost Chicago $1,000,000 in 1916. Of this, $500,000 was for Wasted Water.

Universal Metering Recommended.

The Bureau recommends that the city authorities at once establish universal metering as a policy, and that they take the necessary steps to put it completely into effect during the next ten years. It is, it declares, important to adopt a policy of universal metering and to preserve its continuity, because until such a policy is definitely established, water works officials will be obliged to continue constructing additions to the plant to meet waste conditions which will have to be faced in the future. The meters, it adds, should be owned by the city and should be installed and maintained free of expense to the consumers.

The Meter Rate.

The Bureau believes that in putting universal metering into effect, the m’eter rate of 6¼ cents per thousand gallons, which is now charged, should be retained for the present and that reasonable minimum rates-should be established. This will result advantageously to thousands of small property owners and will not materially impair the water revenue.

Saving to be Effected.

The improved service which will result from universal metering, supplemented by the repair and rehabilitation of the distribution system, will be the important primary benefit. There can be no doubt, however, that metering will be profitable as a business proposition. If waste and leakage are brought under effective control during the nextten years, the pumpage of the Chicago water works can be reduced to 425,000,000 gallons per days by 1928, as compared with 645,000,000 gallons per day in 1916, and further, the daily pumpage can be kept considerably below the 1916 figure as la*c as 1950. This reduction is pumpage will make possible an immense saving in expenditures for water worksplant. It will mean that additional tunnels, cribs and pumping stations will not be needed for thirty-three years. The reduced pumpage will also effect very large savings in operating and maintenance costs. The bureau estimates that the saving in interest and depreciation charges which can be effected during the next thirty-three years, by reducing the necessity for capital outlays for new pumping stations, cribs, tunnels, and other equipment, will aggregate $66,000,000, and that the further saving which can be effected in operating costs during that time will be $69,000,000. Thus the total saving which will result from universal metering will aggregate $135,000,000 between now and 1950. The savings estimates are net, deductions having been made both for the cost of installing and for reading and maintaining the meters.

The following table shows the estimated savings which can be effected for periods of ten, twenty and thirty-three years, by universal metering and the estimated additional capital which will be required to construct water works planl if universal meterage is not adopted:

*No attempt has been made to estimate further saving to be effected by avoiding the loss which will result after the expiration of the respective periods from the destruction or deferred use of the additional capital which will have to be invested if universal metering is not adopted.

The Waste Problem.

Speaking of developments since 1900, the report states that the Central Park avenue and Springfield avenue stations were put into service at which time the population was estimated at 1,775,000. The plant then had a capacity sufficient for the requirements of nearly twice that number of people. Yet in his annual report of the following year, the city engineer said: “Our expectations of an abundant and satisfactory supply of water after the completion of many additions to the water works system in the last few years have hardly been verified. * * * There is a constantly growing demand for a greater supply of water. * * * The department must continue to increase the capacity unless the indisputable fact of a steadily growing and unnecessary waste and leakage is recognized and by systematic efforts eliminated.”

What Becomes of the Water Pumped.

No data exist showing definitely what becomes of the water pumped in Chicago —how much of it is used for domestic purposes, how much goes to public uses or how much is lost through leakage, waste and other causes. Where metering prevails to such a limited extent as it does in Chicago, it is practically impossible to obtain definite data of this sort. However, both the investigations of the Chicago city authorities and the experience of three cities makes it possible to approximate what becomes of the Chicago supply. As a result of water waste, surveys conducted several years ago, Mr. John Ericson, the city engineer, concluded that the water actually “used” amounted to 102 gallons per day per capita and it is pointed out that both Milwaukee and Cleveland, lake cities in which conditions of. consumption are similar to those of Chicago, report the total amount of water “used” as equivalent to a daily per capita of approximately 96 gallons and an estimate of 102 gallons for Chicago would therefore seem to be large enough to cover the water actually “used” for all purposes.

Extent of Preventable Waste and Leakage.

An allowance of 23 gallons for pump slippage and other losses in delivery, and of 102 gallons for water used, would necessitate an average daily pumpage of 125 gallons per capita, says the report, such an allowance being considerably in excess of the pumpage of Milwaukee, Cleveland, and other cities under good waste control, and should provide an abundant supply for Chicago. As the total pumpage in 1916 reached 259 gallons per capita, it must be plain that the preventable waste and leakage in Chicago amounted to 134 gallons per capita per day or more than half the total pumpage. A daily per capita consumption of 134 gallons is equivalent to 330,000,000 gallons per day.

John Ericson, City Engineer, Chicago.

Economic Loss Due to Waste.

The report points out that it is frequently said that there is an abundance of lake water which is free and that therefore it is a matter of indifference whether or not it is wasted and that this is the present attitude of many consumers. True, it says, the water itself is free, but the city is in the business of transporting it from the lake to the premises of the consumer and its transportation costs money, and in this connection quotes as follows from a discussion by City Engineer John Ericson, before the American Association of Engineers: “One argument is that we have a lake with an inexhaustible supply of water right at our doors and that the water, therefore, should be as free as the air we breathe. Sure, we have plenty of water in the lake. Anyone can go there and take all the water he desires, as they did in the earliest days of our city, but if you want to have the needed supply brought to your home under a high pressure it is a little different. * * * When considering that over one-half million dollars is expended each year for fuel alone tor operating pumps, it can be seen that 50 per cent, waste represents large sums of money lost and that common business methods should be applied in conserving the supply, as is done in the case of other commodities. That is common sense.”

Plans for Putting Universal Metering Into Effect.

After reciting that in June, 1917, the city council passed an ordinance that ‘“meters may be installed upon service pipes found supplying leaks, waste or unauthorized, excessive or unusual use of water” and that at the discretion of the Commissioner of Public Works, “said meters may be removed * * * when cause for installation is corrected” and remarking that this ordinance is evidently designed to strike at the waste evil by the partial metering method, it adds that in the opinion of the bureau, any such policy will not meet the situation in Chicago and is not well advised. The establishment of universal meterage as a policy is recommended and the report then says that assuming that universal metering is adopted as a policy, it probably will not be practicable to put it completely into effect in less than ten years and that the work can and properly should be carried out within that time. In placing meters, the selective plan and the district plan are discussed and the latter plan is recommended with, however, the suggestion, that it is possible, once the district plan has been established. the principle of selective metering may be employed profitably to a very limited extent in coping with rertain well known classes of wasters. The report, in conclusion, says the city council should recognize the state of affairs and should accept the responsibility for remedying the existing situation by initiating and carrying out a program for universal metering and that in this the council should have the earnest and active support of every householder, tenant, and property owner in the city.

N. E. Bartlett, Pennsylvania Salt Mfg. Co.

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