Sixty percent of the water treated and pumped through Steubenville's pipes is lost, probably through leaks, City Council members were told Tuesday. Soon after hearing that, council turned down a state grant that could have repaired some leaks.
At first glance, that does not seem to make sense. In the context of severe challenges facing the water department, it does, however.
Of the about 1.5 billion gallons of water treated and pumped through the city's distribution system each year, about 900 million gallons are lost, Assistant Water Department Superintendent Michael Wigal told council Tuesday.
Steps are being taken to address the problem, but finding and repairing all the waterline leaks will be time consuming and expensive.
One concern is the hundreds of vacant houses in Steubenville, Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci explained. For various reasons, including theft of copper water pipes, millions of gallons of water may be going down drains in those houses. Mucci asked residents aware of water running in vacant structures to alert the water department.
Another problem, familiar to officials in most Ohio Valley towns and cities, is old, leaking waterlines.
After hearing Wigal, council listened as Mucci said a $150,000 state grant has been approved to improve waterlines and replace fire hydrants in three neighborhoods.
Mucci noted that though the grant was revealed last fall, council members may not have been informed.
He added it would be difficult for the city to accept the grant, because it requires a match of $150,000 in local funds. "We do not have the financial flexibility in our water fund" to provide that much money, Mucci warned.
That is not the only concern about the grant, however. As council members discussed it, differences of opinion about neighborhoods most in need of waterline work became apparent. Finally, council members voted not to accept the grant.
Council members are right to be cautious. The water department is expected to have a $55,000 budget deficit by the end of this year. Finances need to be improved before there is talk of spending more money.
Just as obviously, there needs to be agreement on where grant funds can be spent most effectively.
Mucci told council he will tell state officials "thanks, but no thanks" on the grant. But they have expressed some willingness to allow the city to submit a modified grant application. Steubenville officials should take the state up on that, as soon as an effective, financially feasible plan to repair some of the worst waterline leaks can be devised.