SWEET HOME — Remember the old arcade game, whack-a-mole?

In the game, the player used a mallet to pop a fake rodent on the head, but then another one would pop up elsewhere on the game board.

That’s a bit of what Public Works Director Greg Springman and his staff are experiencing as they try to plug numerous leaks in the city’s water system.

Springman told City Council members Tuesday evening that the city has been treating — and then losing —anywhere from 100,000 to more than 200,000 gallons of water per day.

“This is a normal process for me,” Springman said of developing a leak detection program. “I have a lot of experience in water and wastewater programs from working with large utilities in southern California. It’s a systematic approach that takes one step at a time to fix.”

Recently, the city paid American Leak Detection about $17,000 to scan almost 47 miles of the city’s water lines with sound-wave equipment. The company located 68 leaks.

“They found a mixture of leaks. Some showed themselves above ground, but other lines are embedded in river rock and took the path of least resistance, which means they didn’t always show up above ground.”

Springman said that American Leak Detection found 15 leaks in mainlines, with an estimated daily loss of 82,000 to 94,000 gallons; 12 hydrant leaks with a daily loss of 15,000 to 23,000 gallons per day; one valve at 1,500 to 3,000 gallons per day; six meter leaks at 500 to 1,000 gallons per day and 34 mainline to meter leaks at 92,000 to 120,000 gallons per day.

Springman said that at times the city may have been losing as much as 40 percent of its daily potable water production. His goal is to drive that loss down into the 15 to 20 percent range.

“It’s an old system,” Springman said.

He brought a box filled with examples of a variety of pipes used over the years that have aged and sprung leaks.

Springman said his staff has repaired 28 of the leaks and reducing water loss from an estimated 90,000 gallons per day.

“We’re also in the process of calibrating the effluent meter at the wastewater plant that will help us get a more accurate handle on how much treated water may be diverted there,” Springman said.

Springman said that, unfortunately, with any water system — even newer ones — every time water lines are disturbed to make repairs, the process can lead to leaks in other places within the lines.

“There is a lot of old galvanized piping in town,” Springman said. “We are trying to replace it and the old 12-inch mainlines that don’t provide enough water flow to meet current Fire Department equipment needs. We’ve replaced about four miles and have another four or five miles of mainline to go.”

Springman said that in addition to water lines, the city had one old water reservoir tank that was losing about 15,000 gallons of water per day.

Springman said the water line repair program will need to be ongoing, so he wants to invest about $10,000 into leak-detecting equipment.

“We’re never going to be able to stop all of the leaks, but this would allow us to keep on top of things,” Springman said.

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

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