STONINGTON, Maine — The loss of water that has plagued Stonington Water Co. since last fall continues at a rate of about 30,000 gallons a day with no end or solution in sight.
The loss of the treated water and the cost of the electricity to pump it has become a financial burden for the company, which is seeking a rate increase from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
The rate increase would help the utility to offset those added costs, according to Roger Stone, water company superintendent.
“We’re broke,” he said. “Maybe this will help us be less broke.”
The change would increase the basic quarterly rate by $10, from $62 to $72 per quarter. If approved, the rate would take effect on Oct. 1, but would not be billed to customers until January, he said.
“Basically, most people will be paying $40 a year more for the water, “ Stone said.
A bigger concern, however, is that there is a real danger the company could run out of water this summer, he said.
“It’s one thing not to have any money,” he said. “It’s another thing to not have any water.”
The company’s water supply now comes from six wells. Stone said the company has about 182 year-round customers. In the summer, there are 97 seasonal customers.
The utility is pumping from six wells, he said.
“That’s way more than what we normally do this time of year,” he said. “But we have to make up for what’s disappearing.”
Pumping water from more wells at this time of year could result in a shortage of water later in the summer, he said. August is the busiest month for the utility, and Stone said the lack of recharge during the dry season, coupled with the water loss, could create a water emergency.
Customers will need to think about conservation measures, and should be doing that now in order to maintain the water levels in those wells, he said.
Water has been disappearing from the system since last fall. Stone said the company first discovered the water losses in October, although it may have started the month before. The water loss has forced the company to pump more water from its wells, Stone said. In April 2007, the company pumped about 852,000 gallons into the system. This year in April, it pumped 1.6 million gallons, just about double the amount.
Since last fall, Stone estimated the company has lost 8.1 million gallons of treated water from the system. Although the rate has remained at about 30,000 gallons a day, that amount fluctuates and the rate slows at certain times of the day, an indication that the water loss is not coming from a leak. Stone has examined the system and also has worked with representatives from the Maine Drinking Water program and the Maine Rural Water Association. MRWA has brought in sophisticated listening systems, he said, and has not been able to locate a leak.
All the evidence so far, he said, indicates that someone is pumping water from the system and dumping it somehow.
“Somebody’s dumping it into a stream or overboard,” he said. “That fits the pattern.”
While someone might consider that a prank, he said, it is no joke. Under the Patriot Act, he said, an attack like this on a municipal water system is considered terrorism, punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a $1 million fine.
“This is not something to be taken lightly,” he said. “If they’re caught, they’re going to be in deep trouble.”
Stone said the utility would continue to work to find where the water is going.
“There are some other things we can try,” he said. “We’re not going to give up.”