For conscientious St. Helena water customers, there’s no more terrifying sound than the drip-drip of a water leak.
Except, perhaps, for the silence of a leak that goes undetected as the water meter quietly spins, racking up tremendous water penalties under St. Helena’s Phase II water emergency.
“It’s alarming. All of us have to be so much more on top of water and making sure we’re proactive,” said City Councilmember Anna Chouteau during Friday’s meeting of the Water Advisory Board, which has the power to waive penalties for water customers who experience leaks and act promptly to fix them.
As an example of a proactive customer, Chouteau praised St. Helena resident Ana Scofield, who immediately fixed a water leak at her home, then found and fixed a second leak a few days later. Scofield also capped an irrigation line she hadn’t used since 2013.
Scofield’s $4,738 penalty was one of six waived on Friday. In each case, applicants demonstrated how quickly they acted to repair the leaks. In each case, the Water Advisory Board waived their entire penalty.
“People have taken a lot of time and … expense to repair these leaks,” said board member Diana Ortiz. “Slapping a penalty on these people after they’ve done their due diligence to fix the leaks would be very unfair.”
Claudia Schmidt and her husband went on vacation for eight days, only to return and discover their toilet had been running, resulting in a $1,362 penalty.
Schmidt added that after hiring a plumber to repair the leak, she and her husband installed a Flume water monitor.
“That’s really helped,” Schmidt said.
On June 15, the city notified KNM Properties, the management company for The Depot on Railroad Avenue, that a backflow device was discharging. The water was shut off within 30 minutes and a plumber was there within two hours.
The penalty: $19,197. The Water Advisory Board commended the quick reaction and forgive every cent.
Howard Smith, who owns a second home in St. Helena, had his $64,175 penalty forgiven.
The leak started sometime between June 25 and 28 when an irrigation valve got stuck in the open position. The city’s letter was dated June 28 but didn’t arrive until July 9.
The day he got the letter, he had his daughter shut off the water to the irrigation system. Then he ordered replacement parts and flew from Alabama to California to repair the defective valve himself.
In his letter requesting the waiver, Smith suggested the city use email to notify customers of leaks more promptly.
“We have a Flume now,” Smith said. “The first thing I do in the morning is check the Flume and see how much water has dripped through the system.”
Water conservation and daily Flume checks “have become part of the fabric of our existence,” said committee chair Brent Randol.
“Thank you for your diligence,” Randol told Smith. “Obviously water in our town is a critical issue.”
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