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Leaky pipes create heavy water loss, cost for Detroit
U.S. Water News Online

DETROIT -- Gallons of water leaking from water pipes in the 126 communities served by Detroit water are costing residents millions of dollars.

Detroit-area residents are paying an estimated $23 million this year for water that never reaches homes and businesses. More than 35 billion gallons of fresh, clean water leaks from Detroit water pipes each year, according to water department officials.

The water loss is not good news, but ``that's the reality in a water system that is this large and this old,'' said George Ellenwood, public affairs manager for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

In recent documents, Detroit water officials claim older pipes in the 3,700-mile-long water delivery network ``continue to serve patrons just fine'' and contend ``the level of unaccounted-for water is good.''

The city of Detroit charges suburbs for pumping fresh water to each community's boundary. From there, each suburb is responsible for building and maintaining all water lines to homes and businesses.

Experts say Detroit's leaks are relatively normal, but say officials could make the system more efficient.

Ken Brothers, a leading water-loss prevention consultant to the American Water Works Association, estimates the amount of fresh water unaccounted for because of leaky pipes and bad meters ranges from 10 percent to 40 percent of all the water pumped in the United States and around the world.

Detroit loses 17 percent of the water it pumps through the system.

Pipes in many systems, including Detroit's, date back generations. Many were made in the World War II era, when the best materials went to the war effort, not water distribution, Brothers said.

The lost water is reflected in bills paid by every household whose water comes from the Detroit system.

Detroit has raised water rates for all city and suburban customers five times in the past seven years. The department is in the middle of a $7 billion capital improvement program, ``but replacing the whole system would cost billions and billions of dollars,'' Ellenwood said. ``It would be totally unreasonable to tear it all up and start over.''

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