It had been eerily quiet at the vacant house next door. So, it was surprising when a huge ice mass appeared outside a second-floor window. Inside, a pipe had broken, which caused a toilet to leak. Nearly one million gallons of water flowed through the house, eventually seeping outside and freezing along the side of the house.
The homeowner — who had been recovering from an illness in a nursing home — was billed thousands of dollars, and the house is now inhabitable.
The Metropolitan Council is working to save other homeowners from a similar fate.
Recently, the Met Council authorized a grant agreement with Saint Paul Regional Water Services to spearhead a pilot water efficiency program. The innovative program will use advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) equipment to identify significant leaks faster and more accurately than current methods. In addition, a portion of the grant funds will be used to help customers in areas of concentrated poverty upgrade to more efficient toilets and other devices.
“We think the program could potentially save thousands of gallons of water every day,” said Ali Elhassan, Water Supply Planning manager. “Currently, home water leaks are only detected by homeowners or during quarterly meter reads or audits. AMI collectors, however, provide real-time data, so large leaks can be identified immediately to help conserve water and protect customers from hefty utility bills.”
Grants used for new equipment and better leak detection
The Met Council will provide $150,000 in grants to Saint Paul Regional Water Services to install seven AMI collectors in designated areas of concentrated poverty in the city through 2024. When paired with AMI software, the collectors can provide real-time water data for up to 20,000 accounts, which amounts to more than 20% of all Water Services’ accounts in the city. Water Services will provide additional funding to upgrade meter registers for AMI compatibility and hire a full-time meter technician to coordinate the leak audit program, monitor data, and manage customer training and communication.
Another $100,000 in grant funds from the Met Council augments our existing water efficiency program that helps homeowners upgrade current toilets, clothes washers, and irrigation controllers to more efficient devices. As part of the agreement, Water Services will work to provide replacement devices at no cost to customers in financial need by purchasing them in bulk and partnering with the local plumber's union for installation.
Improving efficiency and equity throughout the region
The average leaky toilet loses about 200 gallons every day, with larger leaks potentially losing three gallons every minute. Utility costs for such leaks are prohibitive. The new pilot program is tailored to help lower-income homeowners and renters identify costly leaks quickly and minimize the subsequent financial burden.
The collaborative program also reduces regional infrastructure costs. By saving millions of gallons of water over the next few years, the City of Saint Paul and nearby communities can reduce the need for more expensive infrastructure.
“This program is the first step in large-scale water conservation success,” said Elhassan. “We want to share the lessons learned from this pilot with other communities throughout the seven-county metropolitan area and beyond.”