By Jason Wood, Chief of Public Affairs, DPU
As residents of Northeast Ohio, we are blessed to have a great and ample source of water – Lake Erie – in our backyard. This wonderful natural resource supports a variety of jobs and recreation opportunities, and provides a high quality source for our drinking water.
However, having access to a reliable supply of source water does not keep us from continually looking to identify ways to make our operations more efficient. Since an increase in water pumpage directly correlates to increased electricity and chemical costs, we believe being a responsible steward of this great lake is important not just because it is environmentally sustainable, but also because it helps us control costs for our customers.
A critical component of our efforts to be more efficient – and by extension control our costs – is to limit the amount of water lost in the Cleveland Water distribution system. With a distribution system as large and old as Cleveland Water’s, some water loss is inevitable.
Our goal is to reduce the water we distribute that goes unbilled as much as possible. To support this goal, we have implemented multiple strategies to improve system efficiency. Over the past five years, we have upgraded the majority of our water meters to automated meter reading (AMR) technology. This upgrade included replacing many old, out-of-date meters in the system. These old meters may have been under-registering water usage resulting in more pumped water going unbilled.
Additionally, we have invested heavily in water main replacements to reduce the amount of water lost due to breaks and leaks in our aging infrastructure. This includes water main replacement projects in the City of Cleveland and our suburban communities as a part of our successful Suburban Water Main Renewal Program. Over the last five years, we have invested more than $80 million to upgrade 75 miles of water mains.
Finally, we implemented water audit and leak detection efforts about a year ago to proactively survey and fix undetected leaks in the street, main breaks, and under-registering meters in our entire water system. We are excited to share that we are halfway done with this work. All of these efforts are having a positive impact on our system. Over the past four years, billed consumption is up approximately 8% while the amount of unbilled water has declined nearly 14%. That means between 2013 and the end of 2016, we reduced the annual amount of unmetered water by almost 4.5 billion gallons. To put that in context, that is enough water to fill almost 7,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.
We are, however, not satisfied and continue to look at ways to improve our system efficiency. Over the next five years, we plan to invest approximately $26 million a year on replacing aging infrastructure buried underground. We are also looking to complete the water audit over the next two years.