Sometimes it takes getting soaked with water-bill sticker shock for homeowners to find out about a leaking backyard pool or sprinkler system. A leak the width of a dime in an underground sprinkler line can waste 6,300 gallons of water per month — doubling typical water use on some household water bills.
Aside from increased water bills, underground leaks from pools and sprinkler systems may not surface until a sinkhole swallows a backyard deck or water bubbles up as an unintended bedroom fountain.
Underground leaks from the pools and sprinkler systems, commonplace in South Florida, threaten pocketbooks and water supplies alike, particularly during the winter-to-spring dry season.
“Water flows downhill or to the most inconvenient spot,” said David Allen of the South Florida Water Management District.
How much water can be lost to seemingly small leaks?
Although some seepage is normal, small cracks from concrete settling or plastic eroding can allow large amounts of water to be lost a little bit at time.
A leak near one sprinkler head can lose about 225 gallons during one 15-minute watering cycle. Run three times per week, that can waste about 3,000 gallons of water per month, according to the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department.
Likewise, a pinhole-sized leak in a pool pumping system can lose 970 gallons of water in 24 hours and about 30,000 gallons a month if left undetected, according to http://www.h2ouse.org, a water — conservation website backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The magnitude gets multiplied when it’s a community irrigation system or commercial-size swimming pool at a neighborhood, condominium or hotel.
“Water has a way of finding its way out,” said Eddie Iglesias, president of Florida Pool and Leak Specialists.
How much can leaks increase water bills?
The water lost in that small leak near one sprinkler head can end up tacking an additional $20 per month onto water bills.
Larger leaks from irrigation systems and pool leaks can double a water bill in one month.
Even when a leak is to blame for an inflated water bill, it’s the homeowner, in most cases, who still gets stuck paying.
To try to promote conservation, many South Florida utilities charge higher rates for the largest water users, so one month of leaking can push a customer into that more expensive category.
“We will get a customer call us up furious, [and] inevitably we find a leak,” said Bevin Beaudet, Palm Beach County Water Utilities director. “It’s shocking that those kinds of leaks can add up like that.”
Aside from spikes in water bills, opting to ignore pool minor pool leaks can increase chemical treatment costs.
Just tossing the hose into a pool more often, instead of fixing the leak, can throw off the chemical balance in a pool and lead to water quality problems.
“You are diluting the water and the chemicals,” said Mario Ramos, owner of Somar Pool Service in Fort Lauderdale. “It could become a health issue.”
What damage can leaks cause?
Leaks from pools and sprinkler lines can create sink holes and below-ground cavities that crack or cave in pool decks, sidewalks and patios and also damage utility lines.
Portions of lawns and other landscaping can be lost due to declining water pressure from a leaking sprinkler system that runs unattended.
“A lot of times, it’s not obvious. … You never see it,” said Jim McKenna, of A1A Sprinkler Systems. “The risk is the water getting places it’s not supposed to be.”
How can you detect underground leaks?
Utility and water-management district officials recommend periodic leak testing of pools and sprinkler systems.
Leaks in sprinkler systems fed by wells don’t show up in water bills that charge for water supplied by local utilities.
Checking for irrigation leaks includes looking for broken sprinkler heads and testing each sprinkling zone for reduced water pressure, which can be sign of below-ground leaks.
For pools, the “bucket test” is one way to check for leaks: Put a bucket on the top step of a pool and fill the bucket with pool water to match the pool’s water level. Mark the water level on both the inside and outside of the bucket. If after 24 hours the water level in the pool is lower than the water level in the bucket, there is probably a leak.
How do pool and sprinkler leaks affect South Florida’s drinking-water supply?
Landscape irrigation alone accounts for about half the public water supply used in South Florida, according to the water management district.
Pumping more water to feed leaking sprinkler lines and pools adds to the strain on underground drinking-water supplies.
The district has imposed year-round landscape-watering limits to try to force more conservation, particularly during the dry season.
Checking for leaks in irrigation systems and pools should become part of South Floridians’ conservation routine, said Mark Elsner of water management district.