WILMINGTON -- A local resident says the city of Wilmington is wasting water. You may have heard recent reports about leaks between the Sweeny Water Treatment Plant and individual households throughout the city. But Rick Summers says the waste begins before the water ever makes it to the plant. It's a picture that got our attention. A Wilmington water intake pipe is out of the public view, but Summers sees it everyday as his CSX railroad train travels back and forth between Navassa and Castle Hayne and snapped a picture of the leak for NewsChannel 3. Summers said, "If more people saw it, it would probably have been addressed way before now." Summers says the city's intake pipes have lots of leaks like this, and he's been complaining about them for years, to no avail. "People are getting fined for watering their grass and washing their cars," Summers said. "And from what I can understand some people are being put out of business: the pressure washers, and they're leaking thousands of gallons of water in the swamp a day." The pipes bring raw water from the Cape Fear River to the Sweeny Water Treatment Plant, the facility that supplies drinking water for the city of Wilmington. Plant superintendent Mike Richardson says he's aware of the problem. He said, "It's not a major leak, it's not a big contributor to water loss in the pipe line. Once again it's untreated, raw water coming from the Cape Fear River to the treatment plant." Richardson estimates this particular leak is spewing about 10-15 gallons of water a minute into the brackish marsh. That's about 22,000 gallons a day, or enough to cover the daily water needs of 150 households. The cast iron pipes date back to the 1940s and are due for repairs, but under even the best of circumstances, Richardson says leaks are to be expected. "All pipe lines, whether they're above ground or below ground are going to leak some amount," Richardson said. Cape Fear Riverkeeper Doug Springer was unaware of the leak and says it's a big problem. He said, "A lot of times it's easy to look at a river as an infinite source of water, and it's not, it's a finite resource. And drought conditions such as we're having now really point that out." This 22,000-gallon leak pales in comparison to the 14 million gallons of raw water that the Sweeny plant pumps out of the Cape Fear River every day. But Springer says that's still 22,000 gallons that's disappearing from our areas freshwater resource. Springer said, "I think we may need to reevaluate the standards that are in place, if something like that is considered a minor problem today." Summers -- the man who took the pictures -- says there are probably a dozen similar leaks along the two-mile stretch of pipeline he can see from the railroad tracks. The city says the leaks get worse this time of year, as we see big fluctuations in the temperature, and the pipes expand and contract. This winter contractors will do a thorough assessment of the 23-mile intake pipeline to determine what needs to be repaired or replaced.
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