SWEET HOME — Few businesses could survive for long if 45 percent of the items they produced just disappeared every day.

That has been the case with the Sweet Home city water system, which is up to 80 years old in some parts of town, Public Works Director Greg Springman recently told members of the City Council.

Springman said most water systems can’t trace up to 15 percent of the drinking water produced daily at local water plants. The loss is from leaks, evaporation, hydrant flushing and so forth.

But in Sweet Home’s case, Springman said, most of the loss comes from leaky pipes. Hundreds of leaks, with new ones popping up every day, he said, although he added that over the last two years, his staff has “turned the corner” in the effort to plug them.

Springman also told the council that the design life of the original water system was 50 years. There are 54 total miles of water lines in the city. Springman said that 11 miles of the city’s water lines, about 20%, are at or approaching 50 years of service and 15 miles, about 27%, are beyond the 50-year span.

The Sweet Home Water Plant, which is now 10 years old, produces from 1.2 to 1.6 million gallons of potable water per day. The city’s water reservoirs hold about 4.6 million gallons in reserve.

Springman said some city blocks have had 27 water leaks.

“We’ve had some leaks that were flowing directly into our storm drains,” Springman said.

Springman said staff recently isolated a leaking reservoir and was able to find the correct valve to shut it off and take it out of service.

“We were losing 15,000 gallons per day at that one spot alone,” Springman said.

Springman said last year the city spent $17,500 to have a company use special equipment to detect 68 leaks, which have been repaired. The city also repaired another 18 to 20 leaks.

“So, we bought our own equipment for $16,500 and will be doing our own detection program every quarter,” Springman said.

Springman said the use of a new work order system is allowing staff to create a database of issues, as well as fixes.

“It will also provide us with a good method of detailing maintenance citywide,” Springman said. “We can map key leaks and fix where the needs are greatest first.”

Springman noted another issue with an extremely old pipe system: Turning the water flow on and off to get to the leaks may create surges that could actually create new leaks elsewhere.

Springman said Sweet Home has 3,200 water connections.

“We’re getting our arms around the water-loss issue,” he said. “The crew made about 100 water leak repairs last year alone and that has driven our costs up a bit because we have to buy hardware. But, an undetected leak can do a lot of damage to roads.”

Springman said it costs about $750 and 12 labor hours to fix a water main and $400 and six labor hours to repair a water service.

Springman said he is also making an extensive review of the city’s water plant.

He said there are several deficiencies at the plant, which is operated on contract with Jacobs Engineering Group. The current operating contract is for $1.06 million and Jacobs had asked for a 3 percent increase. But Springman recently told the City Council he could not support that increase.

He said issues found at the plant include:

• Broken parts that have not been replaced.

• Two HVAC furnaces that did not work.

• Failed lighting systems.

• Valves that did not close completely.

• Obsolete equipment or pipes that had not been maintained properly.

• A chlorinating system was broken and water was being chlorinated from totes.

• Main control panel problems.

Springman and his staff have been working with Jacobs and are working their way through the checklist of problems. Once those issues have been resolved, the contract issue will be revisited.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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