Slow response to water leak vexes Fort Worth residents

01/31/2014 11:47 AM

01/31/2014 9:25 PM

When Sarah Gates noticed the kitchen-faucet-size water leak coming up from the street in front of her house in early January, she expected the city to fix it.

Nearly a month later, she said, the leak has grown, the street has bowed, a puddle 1 1/2 inches deep and several feet wide has formed at the stop sign at the edge of the street, and neighbors slip and slide when it freezes.

“It makes me afraid to walk to my mailbox. I’ve already fallen,” Gates said, watching the water seep up in the 2900 block of Gatineau Court, just south of Trinity Boulevard. “They have had plenty of time to fix it. It should have been taken care of by now.”

Fixing leaks, however, isn’t always that simple, said Mary Gugliuzza, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department.

The goal is to fix 90 percent of leaks within seven days, but when there are more breaks than normal, the schedule is pushed back. Water main breaks take priority over leaks because breaks release more water and cause more damage, Gugliuzza said.

She said that the first complaint about the leak took place Jan. 3 and that crews came out to work on it Friday.

“We are very aware of needing to get these done as soon as we can. We get to them as best we can with the resources we have,” she said.

The colder-than-average weather has led to a surge in breaks and leaks. As of Wednesday, 77 leaks and 137 breaks had been reported in January. That compares with 67 leaks and 180 breaks in January 2013 and 34 leaks and 82 breaks in January 2012.

Danni Knight, a homeowner on Gatineau Court, is frustrated that several neighbors have reported the leak and that it took so long to get a response. She said the city should hire more workers to fix the leaks faster.

“They need to up the budget because it was a safety hazard, but they can only work with what they have,” Knight said.

Knight is concerned about the wasted water, afraid that kids might fall on the ice and worried that the continuous leak could affect the structure of homes.

“We will get fined if we turn on our sprinkler system. That’s the truth. And this has been called in,” Knight said.

Gugliuzza said the department has the same number of crews throughout the year. But if there are more leaks than the water crews can handle, the department can call in teams from the wastewater department and hire contractors, she said.

During the worst winter on record for the Water Department — 1983 — the city had well over 1,000 main breaks in a month and had to bring in contractors, Gugliuzza said.

For the first quarter of the fiscal year that ended in December, she said, the crews fixed 88 percent of main leaks within seven days and 94 percent of leaks on service lines within seven days.

The city has a leak detection program that uses acoustic equipment to check the city’s 3,500 miles of pipes for leaks, before they become breaks.

Sarah Gates’ husband, Jeremy, said that he has higher expectations for the city and that taking almost a month to fix the leak is too long.

“All I want is to have it fixed, very simple,” Jeremy Gates said.

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