DANC analysis indicates that Potsdam village water is not being paid for

Already dealing with water and sewer lines that are between 45 and 65 years old, the village learned last week that it is losing money on nearly half the water it treats.

In a water/sewer rate analysis presented to Village Board members March 21, Development Authority of the North Country Engineering Director Carrie M. Tuttle, Ph.D., stated that in the past three years, 43.2 percent of village water, or 144 million gallons, was unaccounted for — for a variety of reasons, from leaking lines in the system to incorrect metering. But Ms. Tuttle paid special attention to low flows that meters aren’t catching, and on unmetered water at college campuses, both of which the village can’t bill customers for.

“The village of Potsdam has some very important issues that need to be addressed within the water and sewer rate structure to ensure future viability of the community,” she wrote in her conclusion, specifically referencing college water payments of $487,158 in 2015, and estimated payments of $394,349 for 2016. “These numbers don’t tell the complete story and I think it is critical that the village understand the importance of installing master meters at each connection to the university properties. The water loss within the university owned and operated infrastructure should be the responsibility of the universities.”

In her recommendations, Ms. Tuttle explained the local colleges have infrastructure that is not owned or metered by the municipality, meaning when leaks occur, the village can’t fix them, and doesn’t know how much of the water it treats is being wasted.

To remedy the problem, she advised the village to install master meters where appropriate in the Right of Way just off each campus, to measure all the water that enters them, leaks and all.

“The universities should have their infrastructure, in its entirety, metered and should be held responsible for the total water used by their systems,” she stated, indicating that the colleges represented the largest consumers of metered village water last year at about 31 percent.

James D. Fish, chief financial officer for Clarkson University, said his institution is for the idea, and is already working out how to install and pay for the meters, having discussed the analysis with Village Administrator Everett E. Basford.

“He had shared that with me, and he had shared it with my team in facilities, so we’re aware of the issue, and we talked about it at length,” he said. “We’re absolutely onboard with installing a master meter at the main lines into the university’s campus. Actually, for other reasons, we just think it’s a good idea, not the least of which is to help the village to understand where that water is going.”

According to college spokeswoman Alexandra J. Wilke, SUNY Potsdam is still considering how to respond to DANC’s recommendation, also having been informed of the analysis. She said college staff members Gerhard Voggel, vice president for business affairs, and James T. DiTullio, assistant vice president for facilities and planning, haven’t taken action yet because the college’s lines are connected to adjacent neighborhoods, and so installing master meters requires a closer look.

In an email provided by Ms. Wilke, Mr. DiTullio explained that because some lines leaving the college are directly connected to neighborhoods, a master meter would measure neighborhood and college water use together, leading to an inaccuracy.

“Some of our entry points are not that well defined as serving only the college, as some waterlines enter the campus and then leave the campus to serve surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “This master meter would pick up these residences and count their use as college-metered water.”

Mr. Basford said installing master meters is important for the village because it helps to measure leaks in lines between buildings, which the colleges currently aren’t responsible for. He said that’s because they monitor water use at each building, a state requirement that came about because each college was constructed piecemeal over the years.

“It’s important for the campus, too, but not as important as it is for the village, because we’re the one paying for the water,” he said. “If it’s leaking on their campus and it’s not leaking in a building, they don’t ever have to pay for it. And unless it comes up to the top of the ground, they don’t even know there’s a leak there.”

He said both colleges have been actively improving their systems with new valves and pipes, resulting in infrastructure that is much newer than the municipality’s.

DANC’s report also indicated that about 50 of the village’s larger water meters are incapable of capturing “low flow,” meaning they can’t detect gallon-per-minute flows of leaky sinks, toilets and showers in some places if that amount is under a 20 gpm threshold. That low flow could amount to millions of gallons.

Ms. Tuttle recommended that all of these meters be tested for low-flow capability, and replaced if not able to measure low flows.

Mr. Basford said work to install meters and address all of DANC’s concerns in the analysis will be multi-year process which will include locating some unknown lines, and the total cost of the effort is currently unknown.

“There’s a lot of research that needs to be done to find out where the lines are, to do some exploration and digging,” he said. “It would be quite a project. We’re not looking at something that could happen this summer. This could take a couple of years to institute.”

DANC’s water/sewer rate analysis was performed at the request of the village board, and cost a total of $7,000.

By Alan Rizzo, Watertown Daily Times