Tom Tanenbaum had no idea his home in Orlando’s Spring Valley neighborhood had a water leak. But he’s glad to hear the bad news while OUC Conservation Specialist Manuel Mena inspects the homeowner’s yard for irrigation leaks.

Mena discovered a water leak at Tanenbaum’s home.

Finding none, Tanenbaum invites Mena inside to continue the search, which doesn’t take long to find the culprit, the most likely source of household water leaks — a toilet. Located in a half-bath with outdoor access from his pool, Tanenbaum guesses the leak could have gone undetected for weeks had OUC’s Sustainability department not flagged his home for high water consumption.

“It’s great to see OUC send someone out to check on something like this,” he says.

Mena shuts off water to the toilet, leaving the repair — an inexpensive replacement of the tank’s workings — to Tanenbaum.

“You saved me,” he tells Mena.

That he did, possibly keeping thousands of gallons of water from going to waste while saving Tanenbaum money on his water bill.

“You help customers and that makes them happy,” says Mena before driving away in an OUC Ford Escape hybrid, his office on wheels.  “Now you know why I love my job.”

Mena works out of a parked OUC Ford Escape Hybrid.

That he does.

Mena has been working with OUC’s Sustainability team since 2015, performing residential energy and water conservation audits, and site visits to homes and businesses using unusually large amounts of water. Thanks to advanced metering infrastructure, or smart metering, OUC can get a real-time picture of customers’ energy and water consumption. Customers with four straight days of water use exceeding 180 percent or higher of their average use over the previous four months are mailed “Unusual Increase in Water Use” notices, followed by Conservation Specialists’ unannounced site visits.

“Manuel is one of the hardest working people I know,” says David Mayer, Supervisor of Sustainability. “He has a passion for helping our customers and it shows during his audit visits. He’s enthusiastic, dedicated, knowledgeable, and will do whatever it takes to help our customers and/or his fellow employees.”

Mena has a thing for water, particularly water meters. Before joining the Sustainability department he spent 13 years working as an OUC meter specialist and meter reader. It was during this time he developed a GPS-like memory of locations of hard-to-find water meters.

“He’s the MacGyver of water meters,” says Mena’s former boss, Corey Johnson, Supervisor of Meter Operations, referring to the problem-solving hero of the eponymous TV series. “When others can’t find a meter and you give it to Mena he’ll go through high water to find it. Sometimes we’ll call him for help and he can tell you by memory where a meter is. It’s unbelievable.”

A home on West Concord Street was using five times as much water than usual due to a pinhole leak in the main water line.

Mena also has a pretty good sense for finding water leaks, as a customer noted during a visit to a home on West Concord Street in Orlando. Mena arrived at the 872-square-foot home to see why it’s using about 1,000 gallons a day, five times more than its daily average. He knows there’s a leak, but where?

With the homeowner and his handyman, who just happened to be working there, saying they hadn’t noticed a leak inside the house, Mena looks around the front yard and zeros in on a spot in the tall Bahia grass. The ground is wet. With the water shut off at the meter, the handyman digs until he finds a copper pipe, the main water line to the home. There’s a hole the size of a grain of rice in it.

“He’s got a good eye,” the homeowner says of Mena.

That he does.

“If that leak had gone undetected longer it could have caused a lot of damage to his yard,” says Mena. “It’s a good feeling knowing you solved a problem the customer didn’t know about.”