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Water losses estimated at 13 million gallons a month

An average of 13,911,250 gallons of water per month pumped out of the ground by the city of Cairo is currently unaccounted for and is costing the city money, according to Charles Rehberg, an official with Consolidated Pipe & Supply, Inc.
Rehberg was called in by city officials for consultation and to help identify ways to reduce the nearly 30 percent gap between the amount of water that is being pumped by the city and what is actually billed to water customers.
Consolidated’s municipal sales product specialist presented an overview of preliminary findings and made recommendations concerning his water and sewer revenue audit.
“This 13,911,250 gallons per month is the baseline we now have and the questions we need to answer are where is the water going and how can it be reduced,” Rehberg said Monday night.
The city’s consultant said the unmetered usage must be identified and estimated. Secondly, the metered usage must be audited to insure it is accurate.
Rehberg placed the most emphasis on auditing the metered usage. He pointed out the pros and cons of the various meters used by the city.
“You are using some turbine meters out there. We used them in the 80s. They were real popular because they were real cheap. They’re the only register in town that rings up $1 and only collect 70¢. You are losing revenue where you’ve got turbines right off the bat,” Rehberg said.
He pointed out that the city does not currently have a meter testing program in place, but it should.
Rehberg also illustrated how easy it would be for inaccurate meter readings to be recorded. According to his illustrations, different types of meters have different numbers of stationary 0s and can be easily misinterpreted.
“Keeping the value of the numbers are not as easy as it seems. For example is 1 a 1, 10, 100, 1000 or 10000. With a water meter, data collection system and the billing system, it can be either or any of these values,” Rehberg said.
He shared an example where he helped city of Meigs officials discover a billing area that nearly broke the city. “Everyone got a minimum bill for almost five years because of an error in the volume in reading of the meters. They almost went broke.”
The Consolidated Pipe official strongly urged the city to begin its audit of the top 20 percent of the city’s 3,750 metered accounts. According to Rehberg, the top 20 water users use 19.65 percent of the water but account for only 13 percent of the total revenue.
“There is something strange about that. Rates have a lot to do with it, but then we start looking at people missing from the list. By focusing on these 750 accounts you will get the greatest potential return on your investment,” he said.
Under Rehberg’s recommendation, each one of the top consumers will be audited. Working with city officials he will identify any large water consumers who do not appear on the list of the top consumers.
Rehberg told the city council this week that a couple of large consumers not on the list of the largest water users had already been identified.
The consultant says that any 0 consumption meters must be immediately evaluated and determine if this is correct or a case of a problem meter.
“Just because the meter is working and the bill is being printed does not make the bill correct,” Rehberg said.
He suggested following the reading of each meter of the largest consumers through the billing process to insure everything is correct.
Another area of concern, according to Rehberg, is the large number of city water consumers who are billed for 1,000 gallons or less. He says there are approximately 370 of these 1,000 gallon users.
“One person flushing the toilet three times a day is 21 gallons right there. A thousand gallons a month is only about 30 gallons a day. We need to look at it and find out why so many,” he said.
Mayor Richard VanLandingham asked why had the loss of revenue happened all of a sudden.
Rehberg said the city has had large amounts of unaccounted for water for quite some time and he predicted the drop in revenue was also due in part to the bundling of services.
The city’s consultant said that monthly bills are much larger when they include water, electricity, garbage, cable, gas, Internet and telephone. He said he was not surprised at the recent decline in water revenues.
City Manager Chris Addleton said he was “confident” the water consumption was being billed accurately. The city manager said that Energy Services Director Rod Prince has examined the billing formulas and found no problems with the rates used to bill city water users.
Rehberg pointed out on the list of the largest consumers the percentage of total water sold and the percentage revenue from the individual accounts should be similar, but many were not.
“Something’s not giving with some of these accounts,” he commented.
The auditing and testing Rehberg is proposing will run between $10,000 and $20,000, but he pointed out the city is already investing a lot in electricity and chemical to pump and treat over 13 million gallons of water per month that is not being accounted for.
The consultant noted the city has no records of what type of meters are located where and when they were installed or serviced.  He suggested the city’s utility billing system could be used to create a meter master file that records meters by serial numbers and the date installed.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas suggested the city begin work next week on auditing the largest consumers.
“You need to get something going on the heavy hitters right away,” Rehberg concurred.
Public Works Director Raymond Stokes told city councilmen what continued to baffle him is that the percentage of lost and unaccounted for is remaining basically the same but the water revenue has dropped.
City Manager Addleton said the city would pursue immediately the auditing and review of the top water consumers and continue the process of reducing the difference between the water pumped and what is actually sold.
“If we could cut that in half we would really be doing good,” Addleton said.

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