AUSTIN -- A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovers the city of Austin loses more than three billion gallons of water a year due to leaky or broken pipes. It’s happening during one of the worst droughts in Texas’ history too.
Austin Sierra Club’s Jennifer Walker says that’s a big deal. "When we're in a drought, and we're asking people to conserve water and do their part, it sends a really bad message to have water flowing down the street," Walker explained.
To put three billions in perspective, that’s enough water to fill all of Lady Bird Lake downtown Austin, with millions of gallons left over.
"We have to make sure we use every drop wisely, from personally conserving water, to making sure our systems are tight," said Walker.
Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers released a report card on America’s infrastructure.
It gave water infrastructure a “D” grade. In the report, it explained that some “water pipes date back to the civil war era and often are not examined until there is a problem or a water main break.”
Austin Water Spokesperson Jason Hill agrees the grade fits the state of Austin’s infrastructure. He says hundreds of miles of pipes under the city need replacement. Some of them were built in the 1920s.
For example, a pipe left underground that long can build up just like the arteries in your body. Instead of plaque clogging up a blood vessel, calcium and limestone can clog pipes
During the next five years, the city plans to spend $125 million on pipe replacement. "It will never be zero just for the fact that we're dealing with -- hardware, infrastructure, and water has a way of getting out of containment," argues Hill.
Right now, congress is debating legislation that could help cities like Austin. If passed, the Water Resources Development Act could provide billions of dollars to cities that need to upgrade its infrastructure.
"If we could get more money from the federal [government], it would be up to our city council to accept that money."
Last year’s 3 billion gallon water lose is actually an improvement. In 2011, the city lost about 4 billon gallons of water.
Similar-sized cities in Texas like San Antonio and Fort Worth both report comparable figures.
Austin Water uses special equipment to listen for leaks underground. It also relies on the public to report leaking or broken city pipes.
You can report leaks directly to the city using their website.