Ex-Water Department employee fed up with how water leak repairs are handled

In 2017, FOX 10 Phoenix has reported on frustrated homeowners in Phoenix, dealing with water leaks not getting fixed. Now, a former water department employee says he was fed up with the way repairs were getting handled.

At the end of 2017, there were more than 500 various water leaks around the City of Phoenix. At one point, more than 600 leaks spewed gallons of water into the streets for weeks or months at a time.

Last summer and fall, some residents, like Jennifer Shue, had to wait a while last summer and fall.

"At least two and a half months, probably longer" said Shue. "I just lost track of all the times I was calling."

Once FOX 10 Phoenix aired Shue's story, things changed.

"The city workers that came out that were repairing it came, knocked on the door, said, 'hey, we're fixing it', and said 'we're not the normal crew, we're the good crew that's coming out,'" said Shue. "They said the only reason we're getting it fixed is because it's on the news, and it's a high profile item."

Shue was also informed of a severe backlog.

"According to the city worker, they went from 100 leaks in the backlog to over 600 in the last 6 to 9 months, and so hearing that and hearing the only reason mine got fixed is because it had attention from the media, that's upsetting," said Shue. "How are others getting theirs repaired? Do they have to call the news in order to get theirs repaired?"

Eventually, FOX 10 Phoenix received a call from a now former water employee who was fed up ,but not with us.

"Leaks have become less of an issue, whereas we went through a reorganization approximately 6 months ago," said the man, who was a 30-year veteran of the Water Department. The man wanted to remain anonymous, out of retaliation fears, and said that in the spring of 2017, timely repair of water leaks in Phoenix stopped being a priority.

"In a yard meeting taken with our director of the department, Ms. Sorenson, she stated that leaks were no longer a core business," said the man.

According to an analysis of leak reports from 2017, a year low of 121 leaks in May swelled to more than 600 by the end of october.

"It's one of those things where, if you're on the news, you're going to get your leak fixed," said the man. "They want to hide the problem as quickly as they can."

A further analysis of leak reports showed that when we requested leak information from the City of Phoenix on November 8, there were 273 leaks fixed between then and the end of the year, representing 50 more leaks fixed than the previous 53-day stretch.

"In the October-November time period, you have a swell of leaks and breaks, as we have the cooler nights and the warmer days," said Troy Hayes, the Assistant Water Services Director with the City of Phoenix. "You get the materials and the ground moving."

Hayes said there are indeed circumstances that do lead to some leaks getting fixed faster than others.

"Based on customer complaints and things that happen, things move up and move down," said Hayes.

Hayes was asked if that's fair.

"No, but everything is relative to priority and age, in some respect," said Hayes.

As for water loss, Phoenix is well below state and national averages, with a number hovering around 7%. However, it's a number some say could be lower.

"I've left a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the streets of this city for the citizens I've worked in excess of 30 years, and it just pains me to see the water running down the street," said the now former city worker. "It's wasted water. We'll never get it back and in this climate, this desert, we cannot afford to, now or ever, waste the water the way it's being wasted now."

Officials denied that leaks stopped being a priority, and said currently, they are in the early stages of working on a program that will identify areas of the city where older pipes could become a potential problem. They are also trying to be proactive in stopping the problem before it starts.

The city spends about $12.5 million on leak repairs.