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Faulty meters cited in Junction City water loss

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Authorities in a northeast Kansas community are cracking down on illegal water consumption but said Wednesday that the biggest culprit for the apparent overuse of water was an aging metering system.

State officials notified Junction City earlier this month that it was using as much as 30 percent more water than allotted.

Interim City Manager Cheryl Beatty said Wednesday that residents illegally taking water from hydrants are a small percentage of the problem. Beatty attributes the rest to an aging system of meters that leak and inaccurately report usage.

"We've got a system that is aged and we need to take care of it. Ultimately it will save us money," Beatty said.

Junction City was flagged because it was losing 31 percent of its water that was being pulled from the wells but not being used. Beatty said the state notifies cities anytime the loss rate is greater than 15 percent. The city uses, on average 3.1 million gallons of water daily.

She said the city will replace more than 9,000 meters over the next two years, starting with large, commercial meters and then swapping out residential customers. The process will cost $1 million to $2 million, part of some $27 million in infrastructure upgrades being financed through recent rate increases.

"It's a process. It doesn't happen overnight," she said.

Replacing the meters should get the loss rate down closer to 15 percent, Beatty said, saving the city some 500,000 gallons a day, as well as reducing operational costs for the system.

The police department has played a role as well in the solution, issuing a notice July 7 asking the public's help in identifying the source of the water usage.

Police Lt. Jeff Childs said Wednesday that officers are investigating as part of their regular patrols. Childs says one person who was illegally using water has been contacted so far but is not suspected of being the main cause of the increased usage.

Beatty said residents could use hydrants for water but only if they receive a permit and meter. In most cases, she said, that's what police have found when water was taken from hydrants.