Surface water leaks halted in Hobson City

Hobson City is plugging its leaks.

For years, the small town with an even smaller budget could do little to stem the leaks of its aging water system.

However, with the help of a state grant and hard work, the town has cut its once numerous surface leaks down to zero.

Councilman Willie Elston, who oversees the town’s water system, told the council Monday that the last known surface leak in the system had been repaired. A survey of the town by Elston earlier Monday confirmed that surface leaks were no longer an issue.

“I could not find any surface water,” he told the council. “It’s been one of my goals to get things right.”

In a phone interview Thursday, Elston said the town had used private contractors since mid-2010 to repair approximately 30 leaks in the town’s water system. The repair work was paid for with money left over from the town’s $300,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

Mayor Alberta McCrory said the town’s previous mayor had applied for the grant to fund a project to keep rain from routinely flowing into Hobson City’s water system.

“It was to correct a problem of water coming into the lines and the city being charged for it,” she said. “The bulk of the grant money was spent on that.”

Before the repair work began, however, the leaks first had to be found.

Elston said members of the Alabama Rural Water Association conducted several tests and surveys to track down problem spots. Alabama Rural Water is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to water systems for a variety of problems, whether found in operations or meeting federal and state guidelines.

With the leaks repaired, Hobson City has decreased its amount of water loss from 57 percent a month to 46 percent a month, Elston said.

“Getting those leaks taken care of was a primary goal … especially when you understand what the water loss was and how it affected revenue,” McCrory said.

Repairing the leaks was the latest success for the town’s water system.

In January, Hobson City finished paying off an approximately $114,000 water bill debt to the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board that had been looming over the town for years. The debt got so bad the town had to close its water department and turn over meter reading and bill collection to Anniston.

Anniston is Hobson City’s water supplier.

Elston, however, said plenty of work was still necessary to further decrease the town’s water loss. He said there were likely a few underground leaks and that more testing would be needed to find them.

“But that will require additional revenue,” he said.

Elston noted that, currently, the town was focusing on replacing all the water meters in the town with new, electronic ones to better track the amount of water used.

“We have 63 scheduled to be replaced so far,” Elston said.

But, despite even the best efforts, Hobson City will never completely rid itself of all water loss — a problem all water systems face, Elston said.

“It’s an ongoing process; you just don’t stop,” he said. “No municipality is free from that.”

Rodney Owens, general manager for the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board, agreed with Elston, saying his department also deals with water loss on a daily basis. Owens said Anniston typically loses 10 percent to 15 percent of water a month.

“It’s hard to make yourself completely void of leaks for any length of time, especially when you have to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said.

Owens said most leaks are a result of aging pipes but extreme hot or cold weather can also be a factor. He said Hobson City was doing well to tackle so many leaks.

“Leaks have certainly been a nemesis for them, and it’s certainly a nemesis for everyone,” he said. “They’re doing a good job down there.”

Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.