Austin’s water pipes leaked hundreds of millions of gallons this week

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Water says there are tens of thousands of leaks in its system because of these winter storms and many have not been detected.

The result was a huge amount of water lost this week, utility Director Greg Meszaros said Thursday.

“Tuesday night and Wednesday morning when this peaked out, we were losing 325 million gallons of water at our peak,” he said. “That is an incredible amount of water, nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

A previous KXAN investigation found the utility lost six billion gallons of water in the entire year of 2018. The city’s aging water pipes lost more water that year than in previous years, costing ratepayers millions of dollars.

At the time of our report, Austin Water said it planned to slow leaks by detecting them in real time, using smart meters. Right now the utility is only able to read the meter once a month. But department documents say 300 customers are currently participating in a pilot program, smart meters may not be widespread until 2024.

“Our current infrastructure does not provide water use data by meter,” said an Austin Water spokesperson. “We will have more capabilities in the future with our new digital water metering system.”

The spokesperson added utility crews are working around the clock to fix water main breaks. She said another challenge for Austin Water is not having enough water pressure in the system to identify leaks, especially with the frozen and snow covered ground.

For years, KXAN has been highlighting the city’s aging utility infrastructure, which also includes cast-iron pipes built in the 1930s.

In addition, many of its meters are 15 to 20 years old and toward the end of their life.

Last year, the utility told Austin City Council’s Water Oversight Committee it plans to invest nearly $100 million in the new meter infrastructure system.

The cost breakdown includes the meters and installation, data network maintenance and a portal customers will be able to use to track their own water usage.

“This winter storm has brought unprecedented conditions,” the utility spokesperson wrote Thursday. “Our after-action review will certainly include looking at strategies to improve resiliency of our system.”

More on Austin Water’s plans for smart meters can be found here.

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