A few months ago, we launched City Howl, a Web site that allows citizens to post their raves or rants about city services (see www.thecityhowl.com).

Every week, we'll be publishing highlights of our investigations into some of these problems.

THE PROBLEM: There's a leak on Ridge Avenue. East Falls resident Isolene Nelson noticed it and called the Water Department, but no one came to investigate. Then she ran into a department employee who, she says, told her the problem was too expensive to fix.

Nelson was worried because the steady stream of water running over the sidewalk onto the street caused a hazard in cold weather. Plus, it just seemed like an unnecessary waste of water. Two years and multiple phone calls later, she was still waiting to hear back.

"It's like nobody hears me," she said, adding: "After you call for a couple of years, you tend to stop calling."

What we found: After Nelson wrote a post about the problem on City Howl, we went out to look at the leak with her. Sure enough, water was steadily streaming out of a moss-covered opening at the base of a hill on the north side of Ridge Avenue. The sidewalk was covered with water, which empties into a nearby drain. Coincidentally, the leak is only blocks from a Water Department facility.

What we did: We called Water Department spokeswoman Laura Copeland. She said there was no record of any of Nelson's calls. (Nelson said she's sure she called several times, but doesn't have a record of any of the attempts.)

Copeland and Anthony Varano, who does leak-detection for the department, trekked out to East Falls to look at the problem. Varano said the department would run tests to see whether the water was coming from a natural spring - that part of Northwest Philly has a lot of them - or from an opening in the line.

The outcome: After a few days, Copeland was able to report that the leak was fixed. The water had been coming from an abandoned service line left over from public-housing projects that used to be at the top of the hill. After they were demolished, the lines weren't capped properly. Water Department workers drilled under the street and sealed the water main.

Copeland asks that Philadelphians call either 3-1-1 or the department's special hot line (215-685-5300) to report a leak. Calling other Water Department numbers might cause your call to "get lost in the city," she said.

- Anthony Campisi

Dept. of Good Ideas

A snowblower co-op?

The idea: Lend snowblowers to block captains to expedite snow clearance on small streets, an idea posted by Holmesburg resident Leonard Thompson. The city could buy snowblowers and lend them out to block captains. The machines could be shared by several blocks.

Thompson, whose inspiration came when stationed in Germany, also suggested that large locked salt bins be placed on these smaller streets during the winter. The block captains would have access to the salt, and the bins would be removed in the spring.

What block captains think: Eric Quick, block captain for three years on the 5500 block of Locust Street, said he thought that the idea was excellent but that some training would be necessary to protect the city from liability.

Tyrone Williams, a former block captain (for eight years) on the 6300 block of Kingsessing Avenue, welcomed the idea because he believes that the city can't do everything.

"All of us is in the snowstorm," he said, "not just city government."

Williams stressed that before this plan could go into action, communities would have to speak out about the quality of the leadership they're receiving, since "some block captains are fighting with the block."

What the Streets Department thinks: Department spokeswoman Keisha McCarty-Skelton said that Thompson's idea "seems to be a great plan," but that the department would have to consider its cost and block- captain interest. (The block captain list is 6,000 names long.)

Could it happen?

McCarty-Skelton passed the idea on to the Highway Division and the Streets Department's commissioner, Clarena Tolson. McCarty-Skelton said Tolson "thought it was a great idea."

They will discuss the plan further to see if it's something the department can do, McCarty-Skelton said.

- Juliana Reyes

Anthony Campisi and Juliana Reyes report for It's Our Money

Have a problem getting services from a city department, or an idea for a more effective way to get things done? Let us know about it at www.thecityhowl.com

or write City Howl, c/o the Daily News,

400 N. Broad St.

Philadelphia, Pa. 19130