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Water mains in northwest to be surveyed for leaks

– What’s the easiest way to find a leak in a water pipe buried deep underground? Listen for it.

Starting next week, crews will be in the northwest quadrant of the city attaching headsets to fire hydrants and water main valves.

The crews are from M.E. Simpson Co. of Valparaiso, hired July 10 at a cost of $31,462. If sounds indicating a leak are heard, the contractor will then use electronic equipment to pinpoint the location of the leak. The leaks detected in this way are not large enough to be seen on the surface and are not considered breaks, but they can indicate potential weak points in a water main.

Leaks are a quiet, but expensive, problem for City Utilities.

Breaks and tiny cracks in the city’s aging water mains cost the city more than a half-million dollars in 2011 alone. Of the 10.7 billion gallons of water produced at the city’s water plant that year, 23 percent was never sold to a customer.

Some of the unsold water was used to flush fire hydrants or water lines, fight fires or clean sewers. But the vast majority – city officials estimate it is 15 percent of total water produced – is simply lost to the ground. That means the city produced 1.6 billion gallons of water in 2011 that was wasted.

It cost the city about $550,000 to produce that lost water, costs eventually passed on to utility customers.

The area being studied this summer is north of Washington Center Road/St. Joe Center Road to Pion Road and between the St. Joseph River on the east and Kroemer Road on the west. The number of small leaks detected is one of several criteria City Utilities uses to prioritize water mains for repair.

During the study period, employees of M.E. Simpson Co. will work in two-person teams and drive vehicles with the company name and logo. Some of the leak survey work might be done during evening hours and at night because lower traffic volumes make it easier to hear the sounds of leaking water mains.