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Mystery of missing water baffles city
But officials may be close to finding the whereabouts of about $1.5-million of water.
By CAMILLE C. SPENCER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 13, 2007
For at least the past three years, and maybe much longer, Port Richey has been losing a quarter of its water supply. The loss in financial terms is about $500,000 a year.
Now, city officials are trying to determine whether someone owes them $1.5-million or more.
"We have a large amount of unaccounted water, and we've had it for a long time," said Jim Mathieu, interim city manager. "If that water's been going into another system, we might be looking for someone to pay us back for that water."
Mathieu said the city is losing 5-million to 10-million gallons a month, which means that it cannot account for as much as 360-million gallons over the past three years.
The issue came to light in September. At the time, Mathieu had recently been appointed interim city manager.
Since part of his duties entailed overseeing the finance and utilities departments, Mathieu decided to make sure the city's water was being used efficiently. He asked for a report showing how much water was being lost due to old water meters, leaks, interference from another water system or other problems.
What Mathieu found was startling.
"Normally, water systems should have single digits, 3 or 4 percent, in unaccounted water," he said. "Ours is about 25 percent, which is way out of line."
Mathieu was unaware of any above-ground leaks in the city, so he asked the city's utility staff to test the lines underground.
"We capped off two or three lines, and nobody complained," he said. "It didn't put a dent into our unaccounted water for the next month. I said, 'Well, I gotta find something bigger.' We are pretty close, and we think we know where it is." He would not elaborate.
Mathieu said the lost water isn't affecting residents' access to water, but raises the city's costs of buying water. The city produces half of its own water and buys the rest from New Port Richey.
About $3.25-million of the city's $5.8-million utility fund is being used for a bond issue allowing the city to drill new wells and end its reliance on New Port Richey's water by early next year.
Representatives of nearby water companies Lindrick Service Corp. and Aloha Utilities Inc. were unaware Wednesday of Port Richey's water woes.
So were officials with the county.
"They would have to look at their infrastructure and see what's going on," said Bob Sigmond, fiscal and businesses services director at Pasco County utilities.
Mayor Richard Rober, who runs a water and wastewater management company in Port Richey, said Wednesday any number of issues could be causing the significant water loss.
"The water meters could be the culprit, since the meters are very old," he said. "Or it could be a connection that's not metered ..."
The investigation into the missing water has even roped in some of the city's old players.
Council member Dale Massad said at one point he talked the situation over with Bob Leggiere, former acting mayor, who offered to help.
Leggiere's interference in building department operations brought a criminal investigation in 2001, a grand jury report and a recommendation to disband the building department if the problems were not corrected.
Meanwhile, Rober said Mathieu will probably present his findings to the City Council at its meeting in January.
"The bottom line is, we are losing a lot of water," Rober said. "And that equates to a lot of money. So we want to find it, fix it and stop losing money."