Hecla has a water mystery on its hands, and it’s getting costly.
“If you look at what we’re billing and what we’re pumping, we are losing about half our water somewhere,” said Hecla Finance Officer Gayle Lloyd.
For the first five months of 2012, the City of Hecla billed for 2,703,265 gallons of water. But the city purchased 5,917,000 gallons from BDM Rural Water. That amounts to a 3,213,735 gallon loss, which translates into a loss of $4,820 from January through May of this year.
Lloyd said she suspects the city has long had a problem of losing some water, but city officials really had no way to measure it until going on the BDM system in February of 2008. But the problem seems to have become significantly worse this year.
The gallons lost for all of 2011 were 3,341,005, nearly the same amount that has been lost in the first five months of 2012. Losses in 2010 totaled 1,625,854 gallons, and in 2009 the total loss was just 542,325 gallons.
Some water loss is expected in the process of transmitting it to customers, but Hecla Mayor Lloyd Trautmann said that engineers have told him that the loss should not be any greater than the 15-20 percent range. In 2010 the water loss was 35 percent, and so far this year it has mushroomed to 54 percent.
“We figured that if we have a leak it should show up above ground sooner or later,” said Trautmann. “But we just can’t seem to locate anything.”
The city has been looking at possible meter problems and at some water lines that may not be hooked into the water system, but with the amount of water loss something else has to be happening.
The Hecla mayor said that the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems of Madison does have a special unit that can come and check for where water loss is occurring, but there’s a problem: All the curb stops and main valves to the water mains have to be functional.
“Unfortunately, some of those curb stops and valves have not been used for so long that we’re not sure we can get them to work,” Trautmann noted. “We’re still working on that to try and determine which valves are not functioning and what we may have to replace.”
The city is planning a public meeting to discuss the water issue at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the Hecla Community Building.
“We need to explain to people why we have concerns,” said Lloyd. “We’re losing a lot of money with the difference in the amount of water we’re pumping and actually selling.”
Trautmann is also hoping that by getting residents together the city could come up with some clues to help solve the problem.
“We want to let people know what’s going on, and if someone has seen some oddities like water in their yards or high water tables in their sump pumps we want to know about it. But right now this is a total mystery.”