Buffalo is joining forces with 28 other Great Lakes municipalities in a push to conserve water.
It's called the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition that includes Toronto, Chicago, Rochester and Hamilton, Ont.
The goal is a 15 percent reduction in water use by 2015 while sharing strategies that spur conservation.
Coalition organizers are meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., this week. While Buffalo did not send a representative, it signed on to the initiative this spring, said acting Public Works Commissioner Daniel E. Kreuz.
A number of participating cities -- including Buffalo -- have had conservation programs for years. Buffalo, for example, has nearly completed a state-mandated water meter installation program. About 85 percent of all properties in the city now have meters, as opposed to being billed flat rates for unlimited water use.
The nine-year-old metering program is credited for helping to reduce consumption by about 16 percent, said James Campolong, project manager for American Water Services, which runs the city's system. Other factors that have reduced water consumption include a declining city population.
For several years, Buffalo has had a program to detect water leaks, and it plans to invest tens of millions of dollars to repair aging lines through 2012.
"It has been tough because our system is so old," Kreuz said.
A study released last year estimated that because of leaks in a 900-mile maze of pipes, Buffalo loses about 41 percent of all the water it pumps. Many lines were installed in the late 1800s, and some pipes date from the mid-1800s.
Kreuz said $8.6 million will be spent on repairs in the coming year. More than $15 million will be spent in each of the next several years on water system initiatives, he added.
Cutting water usage by additional 15 percent in the next eight years might be difficult, given that Buffalo's usage has already dropped by more than that since the late 1990s, Kreuz and Campolong said. But they said the coalition is taking into consideration strides in conservation that some municipalities have already made.