Water loss, waste now looms large

While Steubenville city government has proven a water system need that residents accept – namely, that its infrastructure is old and after decades of non-investment, the water system is falling apart and needs major work – there are other issues relating to hitting residents with the latest in a series of water rate increases that date back years.

There is unaccounted water and there are unpaid water bills.

The city has argued for decades about just what to do with delinquent bills, including holding landlords responsible and property owners responsible, yet, the problem of delinquent bills continues.

It is more visible as the city’s population has declined.

But what’s more troubling is the manufacture of water that is not accounted for, perhaps more than half of what’s produced annually, if a report presented to the city council in August is correct.

That’s a big cost to lay on the people who actually bother to pay their bills and try to follow the rules.

We agree there needs to be investment in the system, and with fewer people and businesses inside the city limits, the burden becomes greater per customer.

But there needs to be a greater effort to stanch the flow of water that is going out of the pipes somewhere.

Some could be leaks. Some will be city parks or firefighting.

But some most likely is flowing out of places where piping has been stolen in vacant houses.

Lest you think it’s something only Steubenville faces, its a problem in bankrupt Detroit, where 30,000 vacant buildings sit and as much as 23 percent of that city’s water went unaccounted for in 2011, according to a study. And, like Steubenville there is not the personnel to track down every leak in every vacant building, nor any other system in place to do the job, either.

Council needs to pick a direction, quickly, and implement wise spending of the additional dollars it now requires its paying customers to provide.

The time for talk should have ended decades ago. And now, the losses and waste and uncollected accounts loom large.