Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report
The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake lost about $719,000 worth of water in 2019, according to a Deloitte audit report.
The audit focused on determining the total loss of water from 2015 through 2019 and found that loss peaked in 2019 with 25 per cent water loss, up from 17 per cent in 2015.
Water loss was classified in two distinct categories: apparent and real loss, councillors heard during a committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 8.
Kevin Lavin, who represents Deloitte, said the real losses were the major contributor, comprising $425,000 of the $719,000 total.
The main cause of real loss was determined to be non-surfacing underground leaks, which resulted in $393,000 lost in 2019.
Non-surfacing leaks find their way into underground channels, making them only traceable through a water leakage survey.
Deloitte’s option to fix those leaks was estimated to pay for itself in less than a year and was designated as a priority by the audit.
The report predicted fixing the leaks would come with a one-time implementation cost of $80,000 to $160,000, but could provide $1,359,000 in savings over the next 10 years.
The next highest contributors to water loss in 2019 were aging meters and unauthorized consumption. Aging meters accounted for $139,000 in losses while unauthorized consumption totalled $140,000.
Fixing both of these issues came as priority recommendations from Deloitte, with the prevention of unauthorized consumption being the most cost-effective tactic to implement.
Eliminating unauthorized consumption alone could save the town $772,000 over the next decade, the report said.
If the town fixes all three of its major water loss problems, $2.9 million could be saved over the next 10 years, based on Deloitte’s report.
Concerning aging water meters, environmental services supervisor Brett Ruck told councillors that “a lot of those we are pretty well changing out” during routine operations.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Coun. Norm Arsenault said NOTL’s water infrastructure problem is “definitely a priority” for councillors.
“There’s no doubt there’s lost revenue happening,” he said. “I would like to see that down to 10 or 15 per cent.”
The councillor added the town has made significant progress in the last year on replacing old lead water mains with new vinyl pieces in order to fight leakage.
Arsenault noted these changes would not have been noticeable in the 2019 audit and said “there’s not a whole lot of leakage left” now that the water mains have been changed.
“We have to take it one step at a time, have a look at it, and re-measure after we’ve done some work. We need to stay on top of it,” he said.
The Deloitte report recommends the town perform a leakage survey every five years in order to detect hidden leaks and prevent cumulative loss.
The town has not performed one of those surveys in 20 years, council heard.
Before that, it is believed the town performed them annually, Lavin told the committee.
But in the last two decades “It just didn’t happen,” Arsenault said, adding “things have a tendency to fall between the cracks and that’s one of those issues that really shouldn’t (have) because it’s too important.”
He said the town would continue to update old meters and limit unauthorized water usage throughout 2021, but that major investments would have to wait to be included in the 2022 budget.
Council members were also concerned with the legal implications of unauthorized water usage costing the town up to $140,000 annually.
“Would that be people stealing water?” Lord Mayor Betty Disero asked Ruck.
“I want to believe that everyone’s being honest,” he replied.
Arsenault said the issue of unauthorized water usage is a matter of educating the public and private businesses.
“People have to realize this is not their property. This is not free water,” he said.