A few months ago I received a very high water bill that ultimately caused me to take a serious look at my aging water system. Occasionally I will forget to turn off one of a number of irrigation valves and understand a slightly higher consumption use for the next billing period but looking back through past bills for the same months in previous years revealed a regular consumption increase that I could not explain. Ahhhh, the quest begins.
HIGHEST BILL EVER
A neighbor was kind enough to stop by and advise he noticed some of my sprinklers had been running for quite a while and water was trickling down the roadway easement ditch. Naturally, that particular line of sprinklers were fairly isolated, rarely used, and the normal water line pressure had not been reduced for drip line/emitter irrigation. (Leaving “drip lines” on by accident will only create a slight increase.) I could not have intentionally chosen the worst possible valve to have left open. Duh!
After thanking my neighbor and running over to the valve I almost immediately remembered turning it on the past weekend just as some guests were arriving and in the commotion of greeting them failed to turn off the valve. Two and a half days those ^%$#*!+ high pressure sprinklers were on. I had already routed normal run off to the benefit of planted trees but as I followed this “metered creek” downhill the fact that most of the excess water was only nourishing weeds I would eventually have to cut next Spring was quite obvious. The waste of water was disappointing. That was the highest water bill ever received in over 20 years and was the catalyst for the above cartoon. Live and learn.
BRIGHT YELLOW CARD
Yup, this is something you certainly don’t want to find in your mailbox, but it sure is a wakeup call. This was the second time I recalled receiving an LDPCSD “COURTESY CARD” and for those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the notice, here’s the message:
“As a courtesy, we are sending you notice that an increase in water usage was noted during meter reading. Your meter was read on ____________, indicating water consumption of ___________ units compared with ______ units last month.
If you are aware of increased irrigation or other usage, disregard this notice.
If not, please investigate for possible water leaks or other malfunctions. If you find a problem please repair it or contact a plumber for the required repairs.
If you require further assistance, please contact our office at (209) 852-2331 Monday – Friday 7:30am to 4:00pm.
Thank you, Customer service”
STARTED TRACKING USE
I was curious about the discovered underlying increase of water consumption so I started documenting the days, time and meter readings before and after irrigating. Fortunately, when I initially started plumbing the property 20 years ago (and had the strength to dig all those trenches in this rocky soil) I installed two primary supply valves for irrigation; one west and downhill, the other east and downhill. Below these main valves are some secondary shut off valves along with several “Drip Line valves” which provide water to certain irrigating areas.
Through a process of elimination (closing secondary valves from downhill to uphill) I found even though ALL VALVES WERE CLOSED BELOW THE TWO PRIMARY SUPPLY VALVES – IF THE PRIMARIES WERE OPEN WATER WAS STILL VERY SLOWLY PASSING THROUGH THE METER – every second, minute, hour, day and week of the month! I have only temporarily solved the problem by keeping the primary supply valves shut for the winter and will eventually have to locate from where the water is escaping, but for now the waste has ceased. I know of one “in-ground” secondary valve that leaks and do not look forward to digging it up next year for replacement since I’ve already tried repacking the seal which obviously didn’t work.
DIFFERENT METERS OUT THERE
Currently the LDPCSD is replacing older meters (which are likely under-reporting actual water consumption) with newer models with drive-by electronic reading capabilities in addition to other desirable features. When my old meter stopped working years ago I received one of these new meters and must admit to noticing an immediate increase in my consumption rate which leads me to believe older meters do indeed start to under-read after time. [Documentation of this fact has been contained in previous Board Packets.] Many customers do not want a new meter and I can empathize with their concern but, in all fairness, they are likely under paying for what they actually use which is unfair to those that do. The loss of revenue by several hundred under-reading meters decreases the CSD’s revenue and over time could represent a significant loss, besides, we have the meters and they are useless unless working.
Due to the differences in models currently used in our water system it is impossible to determine what type of meter a customer is using and therefore what type of “leak indicator” is incorporated in that model. The first photograph is of an older model and I assume that “sprocket wheel” probably turned with the passage of water. The second photograph depicts one of the newer AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) meters currently being installed and that small white triangle in the center will turn when water passes through the meter. [I believe my old meter had a red triangle.] Naturally the long red needle will spin around the numbered dial with water consumption and the total amount is recorded on the digital counter. The faster the water rushes through the meter – the faster the triangle and dial will spin racking up a higher number of units used.
The LDPCSD measures water usage in CCF units (Centum Cubic Feet or 100 cubic feet) [1 cubic foot of water = 7.48 gallons, therefore, 100 cubic feet = 748 gallons or 1 CCF ]
I was talking with Randy Gilgo the other day and he relayed how some customers couldn’t believe their leak indicator was turning very slowly until me made an ink mark on the meter glass cover. After talking with the customer for a while the movement was obvious.
SOURCE OF LEAK OFTEN SURPRISING
Some friends of mine recently commented they too had received a yellow “Courtesy Card” and could not understand how in light of there being no changes to their normal water use. Having already experienced my own leak investigation, we started with the “leak indicator” on the meter. Yes, it was turning. We shut off the supply valve to the residence to rule out any leaks in or around the house (hose bibs) but the indicator was still turning. We confirmed all irrigation valves were off and not leaking, but the triangle still turned. Then the serious inspection started – looking for any indication of dampness around pipes and valves. [This is why I brought up this subject now because soon it will be the rainy season and locating such “wet spots” will be impossible.]
Sure enough – after digging around some above ground pipes water saturated ground was revealed. The excavated hole quickly filled with water. We shut off the main water supply line at the meter box and emptied the hole of water and cleaned around the pipes and fittings. While one person turned the water back on at the meter box another watched the pipes in the hole for signs of leakage. Sure enough water was now spraying with the dirt removed. SHUT OFF THE WATER! lol
Now in this particular case the news was very good because there was no damaged pipe or broken fittings but rather, the connection was coming apart due to the water pressure in the pipe. Evidently, decades ago when the pipe lines were installed, a single coupling had been assembled in a manifold (numerous pipes and valves connected together in one area) with only the purple primer pre-treatment being applied and no pipe cement for a permanent connection. I’ve observed this very situation happen a couple of times but the “pressure test” revealed the problem prior to filling the trenches and burying the mistake underground and out of sight. [Of course, maybe the primer held for the test before filling?]
EASY TO DO
Laying out a complicated manifold can get confusing with the two chemical applications (primer and cement) to every connection in addition to the hurried time required to correctly assemble the manifold as the cement sets up – one component fitting can easily be overlooked. [There are now one application glues/cements.] Yup, sure was good news. We simply cleaned the two fittings and cemented them back together and thus far the leak indicator remains still. [Don’t forget to flush the line by opening a water faucet to expel sand, gravel or excess glue when the water is turned back on.]
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
The above leak would have been very difficult to locate and repair if the surrounding ground was already wet from rain. A leak that cannot be stopped without shutting off the supply to the house will continue without intervention and could get much worse. Unless you are prepared to go outside and turn on the meter valve every time you want to flush a toilet, take a shower, brush your teeth, wash the dog, etc., and then turn it off again, that leak is going to waste water and cost you more money.
My best to you and yours, Lew