The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 23, 2013

Lafayette takes bath on water leak

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

LAFAYETTE — Someone left the water running in the vacant house on Eleventh Street — to the pricey tune of 2 million gallons.

Now the question is, who should pay?

Lafayette City Clerk Traci Abrahamson crunched the numbers.

“It comes to $17,000,” she said after running city water and sewer usage rates through her calculator.

She crunched some more, using a typical residential usage rate of 5,000 gallons a month.

“Two million gallons is 400 months’ worth.”

That’s 33 years of normal water use in a Lafayette home — and all of it for naught.

“It’s a cost that was absorbed by the city,” said Lafayette Utility and Maintenance Supt. Al Fox, who didn’t sound too happy about the  basement valve left open for nearly two months before a neighbor heard water running in the house.

The back story:

The house in the Nicollet County town of 500 residents was foreclosed upon in late 2011 and winterized by a contractor. City officials surmise that either the contractor or a subcontractor left open a valve coming out of the floor just below the water meter.

In early spring, a construction crew that had installed new street water mains in that part of town opened the water line at the curb outside the house, and the flow began filling the basement.

That was likely sometime in early April. City officials said they noticed an unusual spike in city water usage April 13.

The water in the house ran unimpeded until June 7.

Fox said the partly finished basement flooded to a depth 16 inches. The rest of the water fortunately kept exiting into the sewer system via a basement toilet, thereby sparing the house from serious water damage.

 The city has filed a claim against contractor M.R. Paving and Excavating of New Ulm to recover the $17,000 that literally went down the drain.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science School, 2 million gallons of water would fill 40,000 bathtubs, or two large swimming pools each nearly as long as a football field.