​SUD’s Proactive Plans: Water Loss, Spray Fields


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the April 23 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, SUD manager Ben Beavers alerted the board to the need to make water production more efficient by reducing unaccounted for water loss and to keep the wastewater treatment plant operating at maximum efficiency by remediating the spray fields. Unaccounted for water loss is the difference between the amount of water treated at the plant and amount registered as sold on customer meters. The waste water treatment plant disposes of treated water by spraying it over fields of vegetative growth where the water soaks into the soil nourishing the plants.

SUD’s unaccounted water loss for March rose to 30.8 percent. “I don’t know why it’s up,” said SUD manager Ben Beavers.

Zone meters in remote areas such as Sherwood, Midway, and Jump Off aid SUD in detecting leaks, but in town there’s no way to get an effective reading because the water lines loop, Beavers explained.

Beavers urged residents to contact SUD if they observe pooling water or other signs of a leak. Even when a suspected leak is reported, it can take SUD employees a day and a half to find its source. Unaccounted for water loss costs SUD 6.8 percent of its operating budget, $38,000 annually.

Proposing a solution, Beavers suggested purchasing strap on meters to detect the leaks in town. The meters cost $4,000-$5,000 each and three would be needed. The alternative would be to hire an outside firm to locate the leaks.

“Paying someone to find the leaks costs about the same as buying the instrumentation,” Beavers pointed out, stressing that leak detection was an ongoing process, not something that needed done just once. Another advantage to doing the leak detection in house was patterns emerged, according to Beavers, alerting SUD to the types of circumstances or areas where leaks were common.

Speculating on causes, Beavers cited valves wearing out where old out of service lines were not cut and physically separated from the system. Another possible cause is old, deteriorating cast iron pipe.

SUD’s long range plans call for replacing the deteriorating cast iron waterlines in the Tennessee Avenue area. Beavers recommended drawing up a five-year budget, prioritizing projects according to “which pays off best,” replacing the Tennessee Avenue lines or investing in leak detection equipment.

SUD’s spray fields underwent intensive remediation 10 years ago. “When I came on as manager we were under an order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to remediate the spray fields,” Beavers said. In 2005 TDEC cited SUD because the spray fields were not adequately absorbing the water and runoff was reported.

Nate Wilson, who holds a degree in natural resources management, devised a corrective management plan. Strategies employed ranged from clear cutting to intensive planting and selective timber harvesting.

“We have one of the few spray fields systems in the state that work,” Beavers said. “Some were poorly designed. I want to keep ours going. We can get water from Tracy City if we run out, but there are no alternatives for wastewater treatment if our system fails.”

Beavers recommended conducting a survey of the spray fields in the near future and budgeting for necessary remediation. “We need to address needed remediation before the spray fields go down.”