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Project aims to detect, fix hidden leaks

LAWRENCEVILLE - On the surface, everything looked fine.

But six feet below the ground, drinking water gushed out of a pipe and straight into the county's stormwater system, where it was recaptured and treated again.

At 18,000 gallons a day, the leak underneath Wickershyre Way was the biggest find in a search to detect leaks in Gwinnett's 3,300-mile pipe system.

George Kaffezakis, chief engineer with the Gwinnett Department of Water Resources, said it would have taken less than two months for the leak to waste a million gallons of drinking water. On top of that, the road was starting to buckle.

"It was a hidden leak. There was actually no indication on the surface. It would have only gotten worse," Kaffezakis said.

The $1 million project is about 20 percent complete, Kaffezakis said, and the county has already detected about 151 leaks.

The department is using a new method of dealing with the worst problems to ensure there is enough money to handle leaks found later.

"Essentially we're trying to increase the level of service to our customers," Kaffezakis said. "A leak here or there may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up and ultimately we all pay for it.

"Plus, we still have to focus on water conservation. The state allows Gwinnett to withdraw only so much water from Lake Lanier, so it just makes sense not to waste it. We'll also be better prepared for future droughts."

According to statistics on the first six weeks of the program, more than a third of the leaks found were on private property, so the county alerted home or business owners to the problem.

Another third were from county fire hydrants, but because of the small amount of water leaked and the high cost to repair the hydrants, few of those were fixed.

By mid-2007, crews will have checked more than 3,300 miles of pipe, 34,000 valves and 36,000 hydrants.

Department of Water Resources officials estimate that fixing the leaks could result in a savings of $100,000 to $300,000 in treatment at the drinking water plants.

Kaffezakis said crews would soon begin working at night to check for leaks to avoid traffic noises that interfere with the auditory equipment.

For more information, visit the county's Web site at www.gwinnettcounty.com or call 678-376-7155.