What Our Water's Worth is a campaign led by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands to raise awareness about the value of water in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana.

Fixing leaks every day of the week

Skip Semetulskis of Illinois American Water / Photo by Emily Cikanek

By James Szczybor

The one good thing about leaky kitchen faucets is that they’re easy to see and hear. Underground leaks in water mains and distribution pipes are a whole different matter. Buried beneath streets and soil, the Chicago region has tens of thousands of miles of pipe, and as a result of such factors as age, corrosion, and the freeze-and-thaw cycles of our brutal winters, a lot of those pipes leak. Many leaks start as mere trickles, creating a steady stream of wasted water; but they can increase in size and given the right (or wrong) conditions, lead to catastrophic main breaks that damage roads, other utility systems, and private property. Avoiding those costly problems sounds relatively straightforward – find leaks and fix them – but it requires a good … artist?  

For more than 20 years, Skip Semetulskis has been detecting and fixing leaks in municipal water pipes for Illinois American Water (IAW), aN investor-owned water utility that serves 120 communities throughout Illinois, and 35 in the greater Chicago region, including Orland Hills, Homer Glen, and St. Charles. “Leak detection is a mix between science and art,” says Semetulskis. To prove it, this modern day Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated how he uses his “paintbrush” to identify possible leaks in the 327 miles of pipe IAW manages in Bolingbrook  – and the 715 in total across IAW's metro Chicago service area. 

Jump to the full story to view a slideshow of Semetulskis on the job. >>

Leaky pipes can waste a lot of water. In the Chicago region, it’s not uncommon for a public water system's without a proactive approach to leak detection to “lose” 10 to 18 percent of its water during transmission, before it even reaches a home or business for consumption. Not all of that "unaccounted-for-flow" is due to leaks (some is due to theft or faulty meters), but they’re a primary culprit. A modestly sized community might pump about 5 million gallons of water daily; at 10 percent loss, that’s 500,000 gallons of water wasted every day.

Read this month's edition of What Our Water's Worth to learn how IAW and other water service providers are using proactive methods to detect and repair leaks early and often –  conserving water, heading off costly repairs, and saving customers money. Scroll to the end for a BONUS HOW-TO VIDEO on fixing leaks at home. >>

Conservation tips

Look for leaks at home, Part 1: IAW offers a home leak detection kit to its customers, and some municipal water utilities do as well. Check with yours.

Look for leaks at home, Part 2: Even without a kit, you can still look for leaks. Check your water meter, then refrain from all water use for two hours. Check the meter again. If the reading changed, you’ve got leaks.

Look for leaks everywhere else: If you see standing water on the street during dry weather, or if there’s a puddle that doesn’t seem to go away, or any other water that doesn’t seem like it should be there… there may be an underground leak. Report it to your utility or public works department.


Water Loss Control - What Can Be Done?, Alliance for Water Efficiency

Water 2050 (Chapter 4, page 100), Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Supply/Demand Plan

August 2011

Illinois American Water (lead sponsor)

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What Our Water's Worth is a campaign led by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands to raise awareness about the value of water in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. From Lake Michigan to the Fox River, how we use our water resources—including what we conserve, how much we waste, and what we choose to invest in water quality—is up to each of us. This is our water—and it's worth more than we know.

WOWW factors

48,000 gallons/year
The amount of water – enough for a year of daily showers – that a pinhole-sized leak can let out of a home’s water system.  

The money that same household loses from the pinhole-sized leak, at $3.96 per thousand gallons (NE Illinois’ average uniform volume rate as of 2010).

500,000 gallons/day
A conservative estimate for the amount of water a modestly sized utility could lose daily, assuming 10 percent loss.

At $3.96 per thousand gallons, the amount of lost revenue that utility would experience at that rate of loss.

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