San Antonio’s Water Utility Handles Leaks

Water leak detection concept.

San Antonio’s Water Utility Handles Leaks

Examining How San Antonio’s Water Utility Prioritizes Leaks

SAWS Lost 21 Billion Gallons to Leaks Last Year

As San Antonio’s longstanding water infrastructure nears its operational limit, the city faces an increasing frequency of leaks and water main breaks. The San Antonio Water System (SAWS), the municipal utility in charge of water systems, recently experienced a record water loss of more than 21 billion gallons in a single year. Moreover, the drought and intense heat aggravated the issue, leading to an unusual number of main breaks.

“We repaired nearly 7,400 leaks last year, a significant increase from about 6,400 the previous year,” stated Carlos Mendoza, SAWS distribution and collection operations manager.

Identifying and Handling Leaks

Leaks in the water system are typically brought to SAWS’ attention through phone reports from residents who spot them. Once identified, SAWS dispatchers send out an investigator to assess the severity of the leak and prioritize it for repair. In case a pipe breaks within the customer’s jurisdiction, it becomes their responsibility to fix the leak through private contractors or plumbers. On the other hand, if a pipe bursts within SAWS’ system, the utility is responsible for the repair.

The utility organization operates with three priority levels for addressing leaks – Priority 1 (P-1), Priority 2 (P-2), and Priority 3 (P-3).

The P-1 leaks are categorized as emergency main breaks causing damage to roads, sidewalks, or resulting in a water service outage or loss of water pressure to nearby buildings. Such emergencies require immediate intervention, and a team is dispatched immediately for the repair.

P-2 leaks refer to those causing moderate to high water loss but do not cause any infrastructure damage or service outages. These require attention within the same day or a few days.

The lowest priority leaks, the P-3 leaks are not immediate emergencies and result in low to moderate water loss. These leaks are generally addressed within one to two weeks.

Locating the Leaks

SAWS has assessed its water systems infrastructure and mapped out the areas where the most leaks occur. The majority of the incidents occur on the city’s Northeast side, along Nacodoches Road, where old cement mains are particularly susceptible to breaks. Another hotspot stands at the junction of Loop 410 and U.S Highway 281 on the city’s Central Northside.

The organization also employs a Leak Detection Team that utilizes specialized equipment to locate leaks and guide repair teams.

Increase in Staff to Handle Leaks

In light of the escalating number of leaks, SAWS has expanded its staff strength by adding approximately 50 members. With the increase in boots on the ground, backlog has been significantly reduced, equipping the utility to improve responsiveness to complaints and efficiency in handling leaks.

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