By Brian Quinn

The Spectator

The state comptroller’s office contends Friendship has not effectively monitored its water system and lost 57 million gallons of water over roughly a 19-month period. The cost to produce the water lost, according to the state, was about $176,000.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last week released an audit report covering Jan. 1, 2012 to Aug. 12, 2013.
“Neither the board nor the DPW?superintendent has taken adequate steps to identify and reduce the amount of water loss within the town’s system,”?DiNapoli’s report stated. “Town officials failed to periodically compare the amount of water produced with the amount billed for and were not aware of the extent of water loss until we brought it to their attention.”
DiNapoli’s report stated Friendship officials need to compare the amount of water produced with the amount billed for and used for municipal purposes to find out whether there’s a significant amount of water loss.
“If significant, town officials should attempt to clarify whether the difference is caused by record-keeping errors, leaks, theft and/or malfunctioning meters,”?the report stated. “Town officials should determine the causes for water loss and take steps to reduce the amount to improve the efficiency of their water distribution system, enhance the financial health of the town’s water fund and preserve water resources.”
The comptroller’s office compared water production reports with water billing information from Jan. 1, 2012 to Aug. 12, 2013. It found around 63 percent of the water produced was lost.
No town officials could be reached for comment Friday. However, in?the response to the audit, Friendship Supervisor James Blauvelt said, “It is unfortunate that a plan was never developed by the town to address the maintenance and any required upgrades to the water/sewer infrastructure. The cost for the town would have been far less if this issue had been addressed over time.”
In the response to the audit, Blauvelt said the town asked the Department of Public Works superintendent and assistant superintendent about the leak.
“They advised the leak was not that bad, that there are a lot of springs in the area of the reservoir and perhaps the auditors mistook the water running down the hillside as a leak in the reservoir,”?Blauvelt said in the response. “They also advised the reservoir had been leaking for over 20 years.”
According to the town’s response to the audit, a review by Superintendent of Public Works Robert Cummins found that around 336,000 gallons of water are emptied from the reservoir when it is cleaned once a year. The review found when hydrants are flushed, they are opened for about six or seven hours.
“This also accounts for loss of water and lack of accountability,”?the review found.
Of the 593 water meters in Friendship, 36 were not working at the time of the DPW?review.
Blauvelt said in the audit response that when 2012 year-end reports came in, water revenues were down. He reviewed water revenues and began to look into DPW procedures.
“New meters were ordered to replace non-working meters, minimum water charges were not consistent and thus, not fair, for all water users and have been changed. Some meter readers were not working and the DPW?superintendent was asked to look at them to see if they could be fixed or replaced,”?Blauvelt said in the audit response.
Blauvelt said when auditors reported the town was dealing with major water loss, due to insufficient metering and a major leak in the town’s reservoir, the town realized it would have to change its five-year plan to address the situation.