Great Lakes Environmental Directory Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes grants exotic species water pollution water export drilling environment Great Lakes pollution Superior Michigan Huron Erie Ontario ecology Great Lakes issues wetlands Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes watershed water quality exotic species Great Lakes grants water pollution water export oil gas drilling environment environmental Great Lakes pollution Lake Superior Lake Michigan Lake Huron Lake Erie Lake Ontario Great Lakes ecology Great Lakes issues Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Resources Great Lakes activist Great Lakes environmental organizations Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat air pollution alien species threatened rare endangered species ecological Great Lakes information Success Stories Great Lakes Directory Home/News Great Lakes Calendar Great Lakes jobs/volunteering Search Great Lakes Organizations Take Action! Contact Us Resources/Links Great Lakes Issues Great Lakes News Article About Us Networking Services

Great Lakes Article:

Aging water pipes leak $23 million a year
35 billion gallons never reach Metro Detroit homes

By John Bebow / The Detroit News

   As Metro Detroiters endure the annual mid-summer ritual of water rationing and pressure problems, they are also paying an estimated $23 million this year for water that never reaches homes and businesses.
   That is the cost of more than 35 billion gallons of fresh, clean water leaking from Detroit water pipes every year in the 126 communities the system serves.
   That's enough water to fill a large, 4-foot-deep swimming pool 1.6 million times. Or bathe every person in Metro Detroit in one shower per day for a year. Or fill one billion beer kegs.
   And that ocean of lost water doesn't include millions of additional gallons washing away in water-main breaks, leaks and broken meters in lines owned by the suburbs. The city of Detroit charges suburbs for pumping fresh water to each community's boundary. From there, each suburb is responsible for building and maintaining all water lines to homes and businesses.
   The water loss irritates Charlene Green, a Livonia resident who has paid high water bills so she and her son could enjoy a back-yard pool. "I don't want to pay for a problem that wasn't initiated by me," she said.
   The water loss is not good news, but "that's the reality in a water system that is this large and this old," said George Ellenwood, public affairs manager for the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage.
   As many of the 4 million customers served by the Detroit system continue to endure rising rates, brown lawns and dribbling faucets, the many leaks are inevitable and costly to fix, water experts say.
   In recent documents, Detroit water officials claim older pipes in its 3,700-mile-long water delivery network "continue to serve patrons just fine" and contend "the level of unaccounted-for water is good."
   Experts elsewhere agree Detroit's leaks are relatively normal, but say officials here could make the system more efficient.
   "Your water loss isn't bad for a big city with an old system," said Ken Brothers, a leading water-loss prevention consultant to the American Water Works Association.
   While there is no comprehensive study on the topic, Brothers estimates the amount of fresh water unaccounted for because of leaky pipes and bad meters ranges from 10 percent to 40 percent of all the water pumped in the United States and around the world.
   Detroit loses 17 percent of the water it pumps through the system.
   Pipes in many systems, including Detroit's, date back generations. Many were made in the World War II era, when the best materials went to the war effort, not water distribution, Brothers said.
   "We're paying the price today," Brothers said. "The systems are just getting old. Leakage is a worldwide problem. We're losing a wagon load of water."
   Joe Karalla, owner of Van Dyke Pools in Warren, agreed.
   "You're kidding," he said when told of the amount of water lost in the Detroit system. "That's a lot of water, buddy."
Overhaul beyond means
   The idea that Detroit's rate of water loss isn't bad for an aging system provides little solace in parched Metro Detroit.
   With only a couple of brief rainstorms between the beginning of June and Sunday, many Metro Detroiters are now threatened with fines and jail for breaking water-use restrictions. Some restaurants and other businesses have shortened hours because of pressure problems. Officials contend dry weather and heavy summer use -- not leaky pipes -- are responsible for chronic summer water pressure problems in the region.
   But the lost water is reflected in bills paid by every household whose water comes from the Detroit system.
   Detroit has raised water rates for all city and suburban customers five times in the past seven years. The department is in the middle of a $7 billion capital improvement program, "but replacing the whole system would cost billions and billions of dollars," Ellenwood said. "It would be totally unreasonable to tear it all up and start over."
Illinois tight-fisted
   In contrast to Michigan, Illinois forces cities to keep water systems as watertight as possible.
   Some 200 municipal systems in Illinois draw water from Lake Michigan. Each is required to keep water loss to 8 percent of all water pumped, said Dan Injerd, chief of Lake Michigan management for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
   "It's a no-brainer," Injerd said. "It doesn't cost systems money to comply with that standard. It costs them money not to comply."
   Michigan has no similar rule, Injerd said. The Illinois standard originated in the 1970s, in part to defray criticism that some distant Illinois communities pumped water from Lake Michigan even though they weren't in the lake's watershed, he said.
   "We now recognize this program is one of the most important things we can do to conserve water," Injerd said.
   Cities in Illinois that don't comply with the 8 percent standard are required to develop improvement plans. Chicago, for example, can't account for 11 percent of its water, but steady repairs have reduced daily consumption there by some 140 million gallons a day from several years ago, Injerd said.
Plans to plug further
   The Detroit system has spent nearly $1 million annually on leak detection in recent years.
   "I can build a pretty strong business case that you should be spending more," said Brothers, the water-loss expert.
   A contract now before the Detroit City Council would increase annual leak-detection and replacement funds to $3.5 million.
   "We're trying to deal with this in an aggressive fashion," Ellenwood said.
   Suburban strategies for handling leaky pipes vary widely. Northville leaked up to 40 percent of its water supply in the early 1990s, said James Gallogly, the city's public works director.
   Now, the city pays $3,000 a year to a consultant who finds leaks through an electronic listening system. As a result, the city has saved millions of gallons and dropped its water-loss rate to 10 percent, Gallogly said.
   "If we could all just button up our systems just a little bit, it would make a big difference," he said.
   The Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority, which serves seven suburbs on the Detroit pipeline, plans to soon test for water loss for the first time in several years, said John Shandoval, an engineer with the authority.
   "We know we've got some problems," he said.
This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.
For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for
purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use," you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Great Lakes environmental information

Return to Great Lakes Directory Home/ Site Map