Specialists who probed Westminster's water mains found leaks that accounted for less than one-third of the water the city is losing every day.
Water Loss Systems Inc., the company that probed the city's mains in August, found enough water leaking into the ground -- 178,400 gallons per day -- to supply the daily water needs of 1,784 people, city officials said yesterday.
But that's only about one-third of the water that gets lost between the city treatment plant and customers' faucets. Westminster's water department is unable to account for 27 percent of the average 2.1 million gallons a day recorded at the water treatment plant, according to a Public Works Department report to the City Council last spring.
The city could recoup the 178,400 gallons per day -- or 5.35 million gallons a month -- by fixing the eight leaks found by a water loss detection specialist.
"The survey's results are substantial in light of the amount of water saved over one month's time. However, this is only 30 percent of the total unaccountable [water]," Richard C. Apolenis, Water Loss Systems Inc.'s president, said in his report to the City Council.
He recommended that the city start checking water meters to find the rest.
Councilman Edward S. Calwell, who chairs the panel's public utilities committee, said he was surprised by the small percentage of loss traceable to leakage.
"Based on the age of some of the lines, I expected to see more leakage," Mr. Calwell said. "And the fact that the lines have to be maintained more often, the more fixes you have, the more chances of leaks."
Thomas P. Owens, the city's water distribution supervisor, takes pride in the small number of leaks turned up by the survey.
"I had the utmost confidence in my water system -- that it wasn't leaking," he said.
Mr. Owens said the water department crew has repaired five of the eight leaks. Of the three remaining, one at Center and East Main streets will be fixed by the contractor as part of the Route 32 reconstruction project; one further west on Main Street will be repaired after street reconstruction stops for the winter; and one on Cranberry Road awaits a return trip by Water Loss Systems to try to pinpoint the leak more closely.
Meanwhile, the city government is tackling possible inaccuracies water meter readings in an attempt to find the rest of the lost water.
The City Council awarded a $33,599 bid Aug. 9 to replace aging meters at the water plant. Plans call for retrofitting meters that measure the water that is pumped out of wells into the city system -- particularly in Wakefield Valley, where the meters are 10 to 15 years old.
"That's the first check, where you get water at your facility," said Thomas B. Beyard, the city public works director.
said Westminster has about $30,000 available in its 1993-1994 budget to replace some household meters that date to 1937.
Mr. Beyard, Mr. Calwell and Councilman Damian L. Halstad, who also serves on the utilities committee, have been looking at new water meter technology as well.
City officials are leaning toward recommending installation of meters that can be read with a hand-held computer, which could then be downloaded into a computer at City Hall. Some meters on the market can be read by telephone, but such a system would be expensive to install, Mr. Beyard said.
Mr. Calwell checked out meters read by hand-held computer in Loudon County, Va., and found several features he liked.
"This model not only would identify unusually high or low [water usage], but . . . would identify any meter that's been tampered with," he said.
Mr. Calwell said he hopes to make a recommendation to the council on a purchase of new meters by the end of this year.
City officials know they lose some water to thieves, but don't know how much.
"Some people cheat," Mr. Beyard said. "We've caught people tapping into the system."
But he said the city finds an average of fewer than five illegal water taps a year.