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Reversing water loss in a rural municipality in Oneida, Tennessee

The City of Oslo’s drinking water comes from the nearby lakes of Maridalsvannet (photo) and Elvåga. From here, the City of Oslo uses around 100 million cubic metres of water for the city’s drinking water supply. Photo by: Wilhelm Joys Andersen.

In 2019, the town of Oneida, Tennessee was experiencing an impossible situation. With increasing state regulations and massive water loss, the water department was taken over by the local government.

Oneida produces 1,500 million liters of water a year and saw a 51% total water loss, meaning that over 750 million liters a year were being lost, mainly to leaks. The loss cost the city $186,000 annually and caused the water treatment plant to operate on 12- to 14-hour days to keep up with demand.

Oneida faces a complex set of conditions to provide quality water on tap. The diverse and rugged topography creates an obstacle course for water distribution and maintenance. The water system consists of one water treatment plant feeding two water supply reservoirs which again supplies the customers with drinking water through an aging water distribution system. Routine droughts are also impacting the water supply.

They installed 4,600 Kamstrup meters with built-in acoustic leak detection and erected 12 collectors within five weeks. During the initial three-month period after the Kamstrup meters were installed, Oneida uncovered and repaired a single leak that had been running for five months at an estimated cost of $21,000 per year and Oneida’s water loss was reduced by 23%.

Overall, the city’s 51% total water loss was reduced to 38%, and the water treatment plant operation was reduced by three hours per day. With leak detection on its side, they have transitioned to recovery and are steadily upgrading their infrastructure, utilizing a two-man crew to fix an average of five to six leaks per day.

The water department is methodically addressing leaks and repairing their infrastructure. The city aims to repair two miles of pipe per year and reduce their water loss to under 15%. With leaks and loss under control, the Oneida water treatment plant continues to improve its operating time and Oneida is now a showcase for municipal water management in Tennessee.