Survey focuses on pipe leaks

7,000 homeowners to be asked about water problems

`A beginning point'

March 23, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners authorized a survey yesterday that they hope will help determine how many homes in South Carroll are affected by pinhole-sized leaks in their copper water pipes.

The questionnaire, including return postage, will be mailed to 7,000 homeowners in Eldersburg and Sykesville receiving water through the county's Freedom Treatment Plant. The plant processes daily as much as 3 million gallons of water drawn from Liberty Reservoir.

The survey provides residents with a brief history of the leaks in nine subdivisions in South Carroll.

It asks for comments and a reply to six questions, including the age of the home and whether leaky pipes have occurred in the home and, if so, when.

"If it has happened to them, they will answer this survey and they will be glad to see it," said Carol Brown, who has spent more than $4,000 in the past year replacing pipes inside and outside her Carroll Square home. "The survey will help you understand the magnitude of this problem. The survey is a beginning point."

The mailing will cost about $2,500 and should go out within the next 10 days.

"This survey is the cheapest thing we can do now to gather information," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

Carroll has been tracking instances of leaks in exterior pipes for about two years but has not been able to count similar problems inside homes. Survey data will help pinpoint the neighborhoods affected and the timing of the leaks.

"We will look at the date when the leaks began to see if anything has changed in the chemistry of the water," said Charlie Singer, plant superintendent.

"We are sure there are a lot of contributing factors. We may end up finding a cure for the problem but never know the cause," Singer said.

A county-hired consultant attributed the problem to insufficient calcium in the water, a condition that prevents a protective film or scale from forming on the inside of the pipe.

Without the scale, minute mineral particles that occur naturally will rub against the pipe and create pinholes. Another consultant, hired by several residents, reached a similar conclusion.

When the county has compiled results from the survey, officials said they might commission another study.

"Homeowners have asked that we redouble our efforts with a second consultant study that includes survey data," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.

Within a few weeks, Singer expects preliminary results from another test that will study pieces of new copper piping added to the Carroll system six months ago. Carroll has also joined a task force organized by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, a jurisdiction dealing with more than 22,000 complaints of leaks.

Pam Seiter reported on the leaks in the recent issue of the Freedom Banner, a quarterly newsletter published by the Freedom Area Citizens Council.

She asked that anyone experiencing the problem send information to P.O. Box 142, Eldersburg 21784. In the past five days, she said she has heard from 100 people coping with leaks in 20 neighborhoods.

"People are frustrated," said Seiter, who is facing costly repairs for leaks in her basement and bathroom. "Homes affected range in age from 1968 to 1995, and 80 percent of the leaks are inside. Responses are still coming in."

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