Old pipes only add to water problems

Published May 14, 2007

MIAMI - Leaky, aging pipes in South Florida are losing millions of gallons of water, even as the region struggles with a crippling drought, experts said.

Miami-Dade County last year lost 12.4-billion gallons to leaks - nearly a tenth of what it produced. Local pipes leak enough water daily to fill 51 Olympic-size swimming pools.

"It's like sticker shock - 'Whoa, ' " said John Renfrow, director of the county's Water and Sewer Department. "But we are doing everything humanly possible."

Experts said the losses appear typical for an American utility with pipes more than 60 years old.

"Miami-Dade's numbers probably aren't out of sync with what we know about utilities, " said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the American Water Works Association.

In Broward County, aging pipes in Hollywood lose more than 2-million gallons a day.

Cities with newer pipes, however, report smaller water losses. Plantation has replaced almost all of its pipes older than 45 years old and saw losses drop to 74-million gallons last year from 372-million gallons in 2003 - less than 2 percent of its water.

Miami-Dade County plans to spend $1.5-million on leak detection this year, 15 percent more than last year and 35 percent more than 2005, Renfrow said. He also hopes to reduce losses by spending $4-billion to $5-billion over the next two decades on more intense monitoring, new infrastructure and water reuse.

Improvements to Miami-Dade's pipes are critical to the county securing long-term access to clean water, said Chip Merriam, deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.

"One of the first things we said to them is, 'If you want more water, one of the first things you can do is fix the leaks, ' " he said.

By the numbers

12.4-billion Gallons of water Miami-Dade County lost to leaks last year

372-million Gallons of water Plantation lost in 2003

74-million Gallons of water Plantation lost last year, after replacing all pipes older than 45 years

$1.5-million Amount Miami-Dade plans to spend on leak detection this year, 15 percent more than last year and 35 percent more than 2005.