Fort Oglethorpe rapidly losing water

Fort Oglethorpe rapidly losing water

May 30th, 2013 by Rachel Sauls-Wright in Catoosa

The city of Fort Oglethorpe is losing water - around 12 million to 16 million gallons a month.

According to newly elected Councilman Clay Kissner, a report he pulled from the city's finance office shows that so far this year, the city cannot account for approximately 40 percent of the water it purchases each month from Tennessee American Water Company. By his calculations, the city has lost around $63,000 this year from water it cannot account for.

"If a person gets terminated over a vote on a piece of property that costs the city $11,000 a year but we're losing around $16,000 a month in water, something's just not right," he said. "Everyone on the Council all the way down to the mayor said, 'Wow, I didn't know that,' when I showed them what I'd found."

Kissner estimates that last year alone the city lost around $200,000 on water it could not account for. The city's water bills show the amount of water purchased from Tennessee American, the amount sold to people in Fort Oglethorpe and the amount used by city government, and then a percentage of difference, which accounts for water lost in leaks or use through fire hydrants.

A comfortable or safe percentage of difference usually falls around 15 percent, he said. Fort Oglethorpe's percentage of difference hasn't been below 33 percent this year.

"Nothing about this makes sense to me," said Kissner. "I'm not trying to be a hero or get anyone else fired. I just want to know why we're losing so much water and start looking for ways to fix that. I think the citizens of Fort Olgethorpe deserve that."

The Swimming Pool

In an attempt to determine the cause of the city's water loss, Kissner asked employees of the city's pool at Gilbert Stephenson Park to appear before the City Council during a recent meeting and answer some questions relating to the pool's water usage.

Pool maintenance employee Ronald Romine said the pool has had a significant leak for several years but the amount it leaks varies from month to month and the staff is unsure of where exactly the leak is coming from.

"We've known the pool is leaking water since 2009," he said. "Before that, as far as my knowledge, it's leaked significantly the whole time. We've made a few attempts to fix it and drained the pool all the way down and tried to fix the expansion joint. It still leaked at the end of last season."

Since April 30, Romine said the pool has lost an estimated 21,000 gallons of water but he anticipates it will lose around 75,000 gallons between evaporation, the leak and water lost from general use of the pool in the following months. The pool itself holds approximately 315,000 gallons of water.

When interim City Manager Harold Silcox was contacted about the city's overall budget for the pool and how much the leak is costing, he said he didn't have any comment before abruptly hanging up the phone.

A pool usage report obtained through an open records request by Catoosa Weekly shows that from January 2012 to May 2013 the pool has used just over 1 million gallons of water, which has cost the city $11,804. That figure does not include the cost associated with chemically treating the water.

Fort Oglethorpe Finance Director Pam Travilian said when she noticed the pool used 112,500 gallons of water this January - a month the pool was not in operation - she contacted then-Public Works director Jeff Long about the issue. Water to the pool was shut off during February and pool usage has been relatively low until the month of April, when employees started preparing it for the summer season.

During the recent meeting, Councilman Earl Gray said the Council had been made aware of the leak and had directed staff to address it before opening the pool for the 2013 season. The other councilmen said they were unaware of that situation.

"Unless I'm badly mistaken, they came to us right at the end of last season and determined the leak was in that expansion joint," said Gray of the pool's staff, who are employed by the city's Recreation Department. "The manufacturer said to recaulk that thing every three years."

Instead of closing for the last two weeks of last season, he said the Council directed staff to wait until after the pool closed and recaulk the expansion joint before the pool opened for its 2013 season.

"During the shakeup you probably weren't informed that needed to be done," said Gray, referring to the Council's decision this March to fire Long.

Romine said nothing can be done about the leak now since the pool has been filled and opened for the season.

"I'm surprised a brand-spanking new pool we spent almost a million on starts to leak and nothing's been done," said Councilman Johnnie "Red" Smith in regards to the $900,000 pool that opened in 2009.

While the pool's leak is one part of the missing water problem, Kissner said the bulk of the issue is coming from somewhere else and he is determined to find it.

"I was told by another person in the [City Hall] office this is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "I'm not going to leave any stone unturned. Our budget is OK, but we could obviously be doing a whole lot better."