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Prineville reduces water loss

By Kailey Fisicaro / The Bulletin / @kaileyfisicaro
Published Mar 25, 2016 at 12:03AM

Prineville is saving nearly 150 million gallons of water annually that used to go unaccounted for.

Prineville lost 172 million gallons of water in 2009, 27.9 percent of the total city water supply that year, according to Eric Klann, the city engineer and public works director. The water lost, called “unaccounted for water,” is pumped from city wells, but lost to leaks, tanks overflowing or customers without meters.

After a number of projects over the last several years, the city reduced its water loss to 3.9 percent in 2016.

“This has been a huge win for us,” Klann said Thursday. “Water has always been an issue here. It was crazy we were losing that much water.”

The Oregon Water Resources Department wants municipalities to aim for less than 15 percent total loss. Bend lost 7 percent, Redmond lost about 9 percent and Sisters lost less than 10 percent in 2011, according to the department’s most recent data. Prineville’s loss that year was 18.7 percent, according to the city. In 2013, Prineville lost 12.5 percent, while Bend lost 3.56 percent, according to the city of Bend.

One of the projects in Prineville included replacing old water lines made of wood that were leaking.

“Prineville was really growing during World War II,” Klann said.

Because steel was going to the war effort, Prineville residents used what they had on hand: lumber. The lines were made of 10 pieces of wood molded together in a circle, tongue and groove style, with steel wire wrapped around it to hold it together. The lines were far enough underground that the wood didn’t rot because it wasn’t exposed to oxygen, but the wire was starting to rust in recent years.

“We’ve probably changed out 8 or 9 miles of pipe,” Klann said. The new pipe is PVC. There is only about a block of the original wood pipe left in the city, Klann said, because that section is still functioning well. Some of the old wood pipes removed from the ground are on display in the lobby at the city offices.

Customers without meters also contributed to water loss, Klann said. That issue showed up at the Prineville Police Department.

“When the police department was built in 1956, they did a groundwater heat exchange, which was pretty high-tech at the time,” Klann said. “They were using groundwater for a heat source.”

Eventually, iron in the groundwater was plugging up the system, so the department hooked it up to city water. Klann said the system was using about 30 gallons a minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A 2008 grant allowed the city to upgrade the police department’s HVAC system so water would no longer be used to heat the building. Another change came at Meadow Lakes Golf Course, owned by the city. The golf course was irrigating about 7 acres of grass with drinking water. It now uses irrigation water. The city also updated its water tanks around town, for example at schools and the hospital, with an automated system to prevent overflows.

Some people living in Juniper Canyon or Alfalfa haul water to their homes because they are not on the municipal system. The city used to allow those residents to fill their tanks using fire hydrants, and they reported how much they took on an honor system.

A bulk water fill station has been set up so those residents can come in and punch in a code for their account to fill up their tanks.

“Now they can be billed accordingly,” Klann said.

These efforts are saving nearly 150 million gallons of water annually, he said, enough to supply about 1,500 more homes each year.

“Water is so important to our city, that I’ve got my finger in any project that has to do with water,” Mayor Betty Roppe said Thursday.

Roppe said Prineville’s goal is to work on projects in small increments over time to keep up on issues before they become serious.

“It’s been a slow process, but we’re really proactive instead of reactive to problems,” Roppe said.

The projects, from the new water lines to the HVAC replacement at the police department, have taken place over about eight years.

“We have worked on this for a long time,” Roppe said. “We’re really very proud of it. I’m proud of my staff.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,



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