It’s been four years since Duncannon started noticing that he was losing water from his system at above normal rates, but despite his best efforts, the losses are higher than they were even after several repair projects.
The borough appears to be further away from solving its mystery of water loss and faces increasing pressure from regulators, officials said at the February 16 council meeting. It also puts a strain on some relationships around the issue.
“Why aren’t the numbers closer to each other instead of deviating from each other? Said Chairman of the Board Jeff Kirkhoff.
The borough experienced a 52% loss of the water it produced in the previous month, or tens of thousands of gallons, said Kevin Hoch of PA Environmental Solutions Inc. (PESI), the operator of district water and wastewater. This is an increase from losses of 45% in 2018 and 20% for what is considered normal operations in an aging system like Duncannon’s.
Water losses are calculated by subtracting the water sold from the water produced by the borough wells. There is also a slack in the numbers due to older counters which may be inaccurate or other issues. However, everyone seems to agree that the losses are too great to be just old meters. The borough is working to obtain grants that would replace a large number of older meters around the city.
This is not the first time that the losses have been so high. Before repairs to the system, the borough experienced water loss peaks of around 50% and 60%. But these were emergencies that calmed down with repairs to leaks, replacement of old pipes and valves that were not functioning properly.
Over the years, this work has cost millions of dollars, and the Borough maintains that the system as a whole is much better for the future. Past infrastructure reviews show that the borough has tens of millions of dollars more in improvements than it should make to its various services.
Last year, the borough discovered and repaired several major leaks that it said contributed significantly to the overall monthly losses. The losses have decreased, but not enough. And that means closer scrutiny from regulators such as the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), which review and authorize resources in water in the area.
“All parties involved must satisfy DEP and SRBC,” Hoch said of the situation.
But there was friction between the district and PESI. Its chairman, Todd Mace, sent a letter to regulators and the borough which allegedly said the borough was not following the company’s advice, for example by bringing in leak detection experts.
“I wasn’t happy because it wasn’t true. We are not neglecting anything PESI has said, ”Kirkhoff said at the meeting.
The borough followed the advice of its operators, called in experts, hired its own employees to find the leaks, and then fixed them as soon as possible, he said. However, Kirkhoff noted that water leak detection services can be expensive, and the borough has been engaged in several infrastructure projects.
Regulatory agencies said they are continuing to work with Duncannon on its water losses, but so far the actions it has taken have not stopped the leaks.
The SRBC said in an email that Duncannon must reduce its water loss to less than 20% by 2024, per a 2019 agreement. If it cannot find the source of the leaks, the commission will reassess the situation.
“While the commission can and does use enforcement powers to ensure compliance with its regulations, staff strive to work cooperatively with systems with respect to system losses,” said Gene Veno, director of systems. SRBC government affairs and advocacy.
For example, a recent line break caused Duncannon to exceed its license to pump water from its wells, Veno said. The SRBC issued a notice of violation but decided it would not impose a fine on the borough.
“The Commission would much prefer Duncannon to devote resources to repairing and maintaining infrastructure,” said Veno.
The DEP state is on the same wavelength.
“Duncannon continued to see excessive unrecorded water loss and struggled to locate the leaks. They’ve fixed a few leaks that get them out of periodic emergencies, but so far they haven’t found anything big, ”DEP spokesperson John Repetz said.
The department has offered assistance to the borough through its program of professional engineering services for leak detection, he said. He was only waiting for the borough’s response last week. The program would help the borough identify problems at no cost. He will then have to pay for his repairs.
DEP said the systems don’t have to do the job the program finds, but Duncannon will likely need to make fixes. It operates its own water supply system and the losses are costly. For 100 gallons pumped, 52 go nowhere and go unpaid.
“It’s water that doesn’t need to be pumped out of the ground with electric pumps, treated at the treatment plant, and then pumped through the many miles of distribution pipes, all of which are activities. costs paid directly by customers which could be reduced, ”said Veno.
Jim T. Ryan can be contacted by email at