Water leaks: Tiny drops cause big ripples

Authored By Ashley Hopkins

When a large water main breaks, it often makes headline news. You may recall the break at UCLA last summer that submerged athletic fields and trapped people in a parking garage.

Events like that one certainly raise awareness to the fact that our infrastructure needs major investments in order to prevent the same issue from arising locally (something community water and wastewater providers have known for quite some time). But it should also remind us that leaks in our homes, though not nearly as far-ranging in impact, also need to be addressed. Wasted water is wasted water, no matter the location or the quantity.

Infrastructure breaks
Because our water infrastructure is underground (out of sight, out of mind), the problems are not as visible as the issues associated with, say, an aging bridge or pothole-filled road. Yet daily, broken pipes waste 7 billion gallons of clean, treated drinking water across the U.S.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s overall drinking water system infrastructure a grade of D. The Environmental Protection Agency projects that it will cost $380 billion to replace the nation’s aging infrastructure over the next 20 years.

The primary problem is that much of America’s water infrastructure was first installed in the mid- to late 1800s. Chattanooga’s own water system was established as the Chattanooga Water Corp. in 1856. As the city grew, more infrastructure was added to meet its needs, but still, many of those additions, too, are not suited to meet today’s needs.

In order to keep water main breaks at bay, necessary investments must continuously be made to the city’s infrastructure. These changes are being made around Chattanooga as quickly as possible-based on greatest need and balanced by the price customers pay-but it will take time for all the upgrades to be made.

Home leaks
“It’s only a small drip,” we often say to ourselves when we notice a leak around the house. “Calling a plumber to fix the problem will cost more than it’s worth.” But not only can many small leaks be fixed yourself, you can also save as much as 20 gallons a day from a leaky faucet and 4,000 gallons a month from pinhole leaks by addressing the seemingly small problems around your house.

Just as you periodically organize your home, so too should you check it for leaks. And leave no stone unturned-basements and laundry rooms can be leak culprits as often as kitchens and bathrooms.  

Basic tools like flashlights and food dye can usually help you pinpoint what in your house may be leaking, and simple fixes can often be completed yourself (you can always watch a few videos if you’re looking for visual advice). Click here to view some tips for water leak detection and treatment.

Deron Allen is president of Tennessee American Water and has more than 30 years of experience in the water utility industry.

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