Last month, CU pumped 52 million more gallons of drinkable and usable water to residential, business and major commercial customers than in January 2013, according to Craig T. Mullinax, vice president of CU’s Water Division.
That’s a 20 percent increase, Mullinax reported during a recent formal session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.
In January 2013, CU sold 264,741,000 gallons of water, but a year later during the same winter month the figure jumped to 316,670,000 gallons.
Cleveland Utilities gets its water from four primary sources: the utility’s own Cleveland Filter Plant, the Hiwassee Utilities Commission, Waterville Springs and a small amount (on an as-needed basis) from the Eastside Utility District.
“We’ve increased 52 million gallons,” Mullinax said. “That’s a 20 percent increase that is coming into our water distribution system. That’s very positive.”
For CU, it’s a positive because it means increased water sales and that translates into higher revenue at a time of year when water sales normally dry up; at least, until the warmer spring season when customers begin turning on the spigots again for irrigation, landscaping, gardens, pools and other uses.
In December, CU reported water sales of 281 million gallons.
“Typically, in the winter you’re (water sales) going down,” Mullinax said.
Reasons for the increased use from one January to the next are varied. One obvious factor is a rising number in customers, both residential and commercial. Another could be increased use by major customers, such as manufacturers and other large companies, and yet another is the consistent cold temperatures that enveloped Southeast Tennessee for most of January.
“People are running their water a little bit because of the coldness,” Mullinax said. Keeping faucets trickling during extreme cold temperatures helps to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.
Another factor is motorists are visiting commercial car washes more frequently this winter because of messy roads layered with salt, brine solutions and dirty slush.
“Right now you can go to about any car wash and see ... they’re extremely busy,” Mullinax noted.
If Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast from this year’s Super Groundhog Day is accurate, they could stay busy until late March.
Regardless of the reasons for January’s increased water use by CU customers, Mullinax believes it will show up on the business side as more revenue at a time when the utility can use a boost in sales from all three divisions — Electric, Water and Wastewater.
Mullinax’s recent board report also acknowledged the higher traffic of customer calls in January because of frozen pipes and meters.
During the seven-day period from Jan. 25-31, Water Division staff received 79 calls from customers during the day and 66 at night.
“It was a very busy time,” Mullinax said. “During that seven-day period, we had 10 waterline breaks. We had a lot of people working to repair those lines ... during regular hours and after hours.”
CU’s personnel response to January’s record cold — in all divisions — prompted President and CEO Ken Webb to request that the utility board include in its official Minutes a commendation to the company’s 185 employees for their work in the frosty month.
“From the manager’s chair, I’d like the Minutes to reflect ... the board’s appreciation,” Webb said of the CU community response.
Board members approved the request and also credited CU personnel for customer service above and beyond the traditional call of duty.
In a related report for December, Mullinax pointed out CU crews set 22 water meters. Of this number, 17 were for single-family dwellings, four for townhome locations and one was a commercial meter.
“That’s pretty good compared to the last two years,” he said.
In December 2012, CU crews set 14 water meters. The number was the same for December 2011, Mullinax noted.
“For the last five to six years, things have averaged out compared to the good old days when we were setting 68 or more water meters every month ... such as in 1998 and ’99,” he stressed. “We’ve flattened out ... we’re getting pretty consistent now.”
Setting water meters is normally done for new construction which is considered a reliable gauge of economic strength. When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, the housing market took a giant dip which impacted CU’s water meter sets. Since that time, the road to recovery has been slow but gradual.
In another water-related report, Mullinax pointed to another monthly measure monitored by the utility: rainfall.
In January, the Cleveland area received only 2.97 inches which was a major contrast from January 2013 when almost 11 inches fell. Although it represents only one month, it sets the stage for potentially a projected annual rainfall total of only 35.64 inches, which — if it plays out — would be 18.55 inches below normal.
But with 11 months remaining in the year, the numbers can change dramatically. February is already on course to exceed the 3.63 inches of rain that fell in February 2013, Mullinax’s report indicates.