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Billions of gallons of water lost to leaks leave customers with the bill

Updated: Wednesday, November 13 2013, 09:41 PM MST
Billions of gallons of water lost to leaks leave customers with the bill story image

By: Erika Castillo
EL PASO, Texas -- Not everyone in El Paso pays their water bill, and when they don't, you pay it for them in your bill.

And when El Paso Water Utilities has a leak in its water mains or pipes, you pay for that too.

KFOX14 news investigates and finds billions of gallons of water being lost and millions of dollars in losses being passed on to consumers.

El Paso Water Utilities says, relatively speaking, the amount of water and revenue lost by the utility every year is a drop in the bucket.

Based on public financial audits by the EPWU for fiscal years 2011 to 2013, in the last three years the utility has lost more than $2million to writeoffs for uncollected bills and drainage fees.

In 2013 alone, the water utility lost 6 percent of its total generated water to its own water-main and pipeline leaks, according to the audit. That amounts to about 2.32 billion gallons of water.

Based on a customer's average residential bill of $25.61 a month for 10,000 gallons of water, that's a value of $5,871,920 -- or more simply put, nearly $5.9 million.

According to the audits, the water leaked in 2013 alone would be enough to meet the city's entre water demand in 2012 at peak levels for two weeks.

Even though the EPWU insists those are good figures compared to what other cities lose -- the benchmark is 8 percent nationally -- that is a lot of water and revenue lost, which is nearly $7.8 million for the last three years.

Who are the ones left with the bill? EPWU customers.

"We make a very proactive effort on our side to make sure that number stays very low," says Christina Montoya, spokeswoman for El Paso Water Utilities.

Rick Bonard, the citizen advocate on the Public Service Board, agrees, saying passing on the cost of millions of dollars in losses is simply the "cost of doing business."

Montoya says the cost to consumers is negligible, meaning the cost is barely felt at all in respective monthly bills of consumers.

The track record for the water utility losing water is gradually improving from 1986, when the utility was losing 14 percent to its own leaks.

In 2005, the water utility installed loggers on pipelines and water mains, which are portable devices that emit acoustic waves when leaks or potential leaks are detected. Since 2005, the water utility says it has saved more than 900 million gallons of water.

However, part of the problem today is that of the 10,000 loggers installed in 2005, there are only a hundred of the loggers left working. So the utility has ordered 12,000 more loggers that are new and more advanced to help track leaks in the utility's 2,000-plus miles of pipe and water system. The loggers are expected to arrive in six months.

The utility also changes water meters every 10 years on a rotation, and has spent $40 million in the last five years replacing pipes -- some of which are up to 70 years old.

In the end, the water utility insists conserving water, being diligent about leaks, and covering the costs is a group effort.


EPWU audit for 2012-2013

Older EPWU audits

Click here for more information on workshops and field trips to the EPWU education center

Billions of gallons of water lost to leaks leave customers with the bill
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