CAPE MAY — The city unveiled its own water study Thursday that presents evidence that neighboring West Cape May did not get billed for water it never got.

The study, in fact, suggests that West Cape May might owe the city some money.

At issue are an estimated 121 million gallons of missing water between 2003 and 2009 worth $696,997. The borough as recently as last month was willing to settle for $592,000 applied as credits over eight years to West Cape May water customers.

But Cape May wasn’t ready to settle because it has been doing its own study, the latest in a four-year battle between the two towns over water charges. The city’s desalination plant on Canning House Lane provides water to residents of West Cape May. A study commissioned by the borough blamed faulty water meters for the problem.

The city’s own study, by Dixon Associates of Galloway Township, which was presented at a Thursday afternoon press conference, indicates the city actually may have been undercharging the borough.

The study centered on readings from two faulty meters that have since been replaced. Readings were taken over a one-year period. Kevin Dixon, of Dixon Associates, said one meter favored West Cape May and the other favored Cape May.

Dixon said the Canning House Lane meter recording flow into West Cape May during that one year period did not register almost 6 million gallons. This benefited West Cape May, because it did not pay for those gallons.

Desalination plant water goes to West Cape May first and then to Cape May. A meter at Wilbraham Park in West Cape May records water West Cape May does not use that is then pushed to Cape May. The borough gets a credit for this water. Over that one-year period, Dixon said, this meter did not report just over 4.1 million gallons that West Cape May should have been credited for.

The borough, according to Dixon’s calculations, came out ahead by 1.9 million gallons.

“There is a corresponding underreporting in both meters. West Cape May was receiving more water than it was being billed for,” Dixon said.

West Cape May Mayor Pam Kaithern said she is still awaiting data from the report, including the hourly readings from the new meters. She said the borough would review the report, but she still wonders why the water loss problem stopped when the Wilbraham Park meter was replaced.

After the press conference, West Cape May put out a prepared statement that questioned whether Cape May is trying to avoid financial responsibility rather than explain the water loss.

“So in the end, we are left with two conflicting accounts that must be reconciled, and a financial responsibility that must be allocated. More than one year ago, West Cape May offered to mediate this dispute with the state mediation service, and Cape May flatly refused. West Cape May remains willing to mediate,” said the statement.

Cape May already hasspent almost $270,000 to replace the two meters and seems content with its figures.

“Mr. Dixon’s methodology is quite sound, and I have the utmost confidence in that report,” said Cape May Deputy Mayor Bill Murray.

There are other possibilities to explain the missing water, including leaks in the system or illegal connections. Dixon declined to speculate on possible causes but said the problem is somewhere in West Cape May’s system.

City Solicitor Tony Monzo said the two 12-inch water meters did not properly register low flows. If the flow was less than 40 gallons per minute, it did not register at all. From 40 to 100 gallons the meters measured an increasing level of flow. He said they were 100 percent accurate after 100 gallons per minute.

The new meters installed in 2012 can handle lower volumes of water. The city wanted one year of data, and got that from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013, before presenting its findings.

The water loss has become an issue in the West Cape May Borough Commission race, where incumbents Kaithern, Peter Burke and Carol Sabo are running on a slate against challengers Dave Wilburn, Stephanie LaTorre and John Francis.

Wilburn and LaTorre attended the press conference. The challengers put out a statement afterward.

“Respectful of the expertise and expense that Cape May City has expended to find the missing water, we will take the study seriously and pledge to West Cape May residents that in our administration the finger-pointing will end, and we will enthusiastically take the responsibility to find and eliminate the cause of the missing water that has cost the taxpayers so much money,” the statement said.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.