Water Audit Cases Studies - The Emerging Use of Water Audits in the United States Water Utility Sector

1800s wooden pipe

Wooden pipe from London in the 1800s.  Water loss control has come a long way in recent years.

Historically, the water auditing process has been used inconsistently and sporadically in North America.  With the creation of the AWWA/IWA Water Audit Methodology and corresponding outreach by water utilities this trend is changing.  State and regional regulatory agencies in the United States have begun to embrace the AWWA/IWA Water Audit Methodology as 1) an improved and reliable practice compared to the imprecise “unaccounted-for” water process, and 2) a standardized approach that can produce data which allows performance comparisons and benchmarking of best practices.  Several regulatory agencies have begun to institute the use of standardized water audits, as detailed below,

Water efficiency in the water utility sector is being practiced and investigated in many more state and regional water resource agencies than those listed here.  The examples presented below are from agencies that have taken a leading role in implementing water utility loss reduction programs.  Additional examples will be added as they become available.

State of Texas

Texas became the first state in the United States to pass legislation requiring water utilities to submit water audits (initially every five years) to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).  Over 2,000 completed water audits were submitted to TWDB for calendar year 2005.  Data from these water audits was assessed and findings compiled in an engineering report which is available for download here:  An Analysis of Water Loss as Reported by Public Water Suppliers in Texas (2007).  Click on Report 0600010612, listed under the year 2007 on the right. 

The TWDB has since refined its water audit guidelines in a manual that includes the capability to assess the validity of the data that is submitted by water utilities.  This 2008 manual can be downloaded here. 

Data from Texas utilities is collected every five years and the next round of water audit data collection in Texas will occur in early 2011, by collecting and assessing water supply data from the 2010 year. The State of Texas has taken the lead role in promoting water accountability and efficiency in drinking water utilities, and developments in the state will continue to be watched closely.

State of New Mexico

The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) of New Mexico has been progressive in water supply planning in this dry southwestern US state.  Included in their planning is the assessment of the efficiency of drinking water utilities.  The OSE adopted the AWWA/IWA Water Audit Methodology and commissioned a pilot water audit for several water utilities in the state. Information and an engineering report on the findings of these water audits can be found at: http://www.ose.state.nm.us/wucp_accounting.html.

With limited water resources and a growing population, New Mexico is setting the pace in the southwestern United States in managing efficient water resources.

State of Georgia and the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District

While debates over limited water resources are familiar to those in the western United States, competition over the water resources of the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint (ACF) River system in the Southeastern United States has reached epic proportions in recent years.  The controversy has centered on the rights of upstream users along the Chattahoochee River (mainly water from Lake Lanier in Northern Georgia supplying the Atlanta, GA region) and the needs of downstream users in Alabama and Florida for fisheries, power generation and the ecology.  The allocation of Lake Lanier water has been the focal point in this debate, and a federal court ruling in 2009 disavowed continued use of certain volumes of Lake Lanier water to the Atlanta area after 2013.  Consequently, the State of Georgia passed the landmark Water Stewardship Act in 2010.  Among the many requirements of the act is the provision that water utilities in the North Georgia area must compile an annual AWWA/IWA water audit starting in 2013.  Control of water utility leakage losses will also be given specific focus. 

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (MNGWPD) is responsible for water resources planning in a multi-county area of northern Georgia, including the Atlanta region.  This area has experienced fast-paced growth in recent decades.  It also suffered a significant drought in 2007-2008, resulting in an historic water storage depletion of Lake Lanier, which heightened the debate over the water resources of the ACF river system.  The MNGWPD has been progressively working on rational water supply planning that focuses heavily on water efficiency; both by the consumer and by water suppliers.  The MNGWPD will play a strong role in implementing the Water Stewardship Act and has conducted a series of workshops for water utility personnel, on the water audit methodology and use of the AWWA Free Water Audit Software©.  Information on the Water Stewardship Act can be found at: http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2009_10/versions/sb370_SB370_APP_8.htm.

Program information from the MNGWPD can be found at: http://www.northgeorgiawater.com/html/206.htm.

The southeastern United States and Atlanta, GA region specifically, have gained national attention as a region coming to grips with its long-term outlook for water availability in a growing area.  The State of Georgia and the MNGWPD have taken bold steps to emphasize water efficiency in all sectors as part of the long-term strategy for water sustainability in the region.

Washington State

The State of Washington passed comprehensive legislation promoting greater water use efficiency.  Major provisions of the legislation include requiring water utilities to install meters on all customer service connections within 10 years of the 2004 legislation.  Water utilities must also meet a distribution system leakage standard.    Information is available at: http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/dw/programs/wue.htm.

The definition of this leakage standard has led to some discussion, but the intention of the legislation, and the emphasis on water efficiency, reflect the serious interest that the State of Washington has in promoting efficient water use by both consumer and suppliers.

California Urban Water Conservation Council

The California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC) has been an effective consortium of metropolitan water utilities and other stakeholders dedicated to the promotion of water efficiency in the United States’ most populous state.  Signatory water utilities agree to implement a series of best management practices for water efficiency.  In 2009 the CUWCC adopted perhaps the most ambitious water loss control initiative in the United States.  By revising its Best Management Practice (BMP) 1.2 for water utility operations, the CUWCC has defined a 10-year period for more than 230 signatory water utilities to establish routine and well validated water auditing, and to define and implement effective leakage control measures.  For information, access the below link and scroll to BMP 1.2: http://www.cuwcc.org/mou/bmp1-utility-operations-programs.aspx.

The revised BMP 1.2 requires use of the AWWA/IWA Water Audit Methodology and the AWWA Free Water Audit Software© as the standard tool for compilation of water audit data by water utilities.   For compliance under BMP 1.2, water utilities must submit an annual water audit starting in 2010 for the 2009 year.  Through Year 4 (2013) utilities should focus on improvement of the water audit data to establish a high level of data validity.  Years 5 through 10 (2019) will focus on specific quantification of leakage amounts, and setting and obtaining meaningful leakage control goals.  The State of California is greatly challenged to achieve water sustainability for its long-term viability.  Its challenges of limited water resources, growing population and environmental stewardship place it at the apex of water efficiency imperatives.  The efforts of the CUWCC will assist greatly in promoting a more sustainable water future for the State of California, and might serve as a model of best practice in North America.

Delaware River Basin Commission and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) oversees water resources for the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi River in the United States.  The commission members include the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE).  The DRBC Water Code regulates water resources in cooperation with the member states and USACOE.  In 2009, after considerable research, the DRBC put forth revisions to the provisions of its Water Code regarding efficiency for water suppliers.  The revisions require submittal of an annual AWWA/IWA water audit from the 600 water utilities in the Delaware River Basin starting in 2012.  Information can be found at: http://www.state.nj.us/drbc/water-audits.htm.

The DRBC requires use of the AWWA Free Water Audit Software© as the data collection tool, and DRBC staff have taken a lead role in developing this software and complimentary tools for data analysis.  Once routine water auditing is in place for the water utilities in the Delaware River Basin, the commission states will have a model on which to base similar requirements on a state-wide basis should they chose to do so.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PAPUC) regulates power, gas, public transportation and private water companies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  In partnership with the new requirements being implemented by the DRBC, the PAPUC launched a two-year water audit pilot program in 2009 with five of the largest private water companies participating.  The five companies assembled water audits for a number of individual water utilities in 2010 and an assessment of the program will be conducted at the end of the two year period in 2011.

State of Tennessee

The State of Tennessee enacted legislation that became effective in 2007 and required utility districts to assess water loss in their annual audit reports.  The law called for utility districts to report their “unaccounted-for” water percentage, and districts whose water loss is excessive are required to take appropriate actions to bring losses within control.  Since this legislation was enacted, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD) has conducted outreach to promote the use of a reliable water auditing approach and performance indicator rather than the imprecise “unaccounted-for” water terminology.

At the October 7, 2010 Joint Meeting of Tennessee’s Utility Management Review Board and the Water and Wastewater Financing Board, a percentage was set for determining excessive water loss in accordance with TCA Section 7-82-702. The unanimous action of both boards was to:

  1. Set the excessive water loss percentage at 35% using the current method of calculation.
  2. Allow for the submission of both methods (AWWA and current method) but until January 1, 2013 the current method is the required method to be submitted in the annual financial statements.
  3. Request the Office of the Comptroller to offer legislation to amend the current statute to allow the boards the ability to adopt water loss standards. The current law specifically uses the term percentage and the preferred method of calculation actually determines a ratio.
  4. If the law is amended, the AWWA water loss method (AWWA Manual M36) will become the required method for submission on January 1, 2013.

TAUD has formally recommended the adoption of the AWWA method for water loss calculation as well as offered written comments to the Joint Meeting concerning the implementation strategy for water loss compliance. The majority of those recommendations were included in the decision of the review boards.  The State of Tennessee is taking progressive steps to transition to best practice methods for water audits and loss control in its utility districts.  These efforts place Tennessee in the ranks of the early adopters of the effective AWWA approach.

For more information see: http://www.taud.org/TempFiles/WaterLoss.htm   (accessed November 8, 2010)

Other Regions

Water efficiency in the water utility sector is being investigated in many more state and regional water resource agencies than those listed above.  However, the above group represents those who have taken a pioneering role in implementing programs to motivate improved water efficiency.  It is certain that more agencies will be added to these ranks as the growing concern for water availability continues.

More Information

Water Loss Control Introduction

Water Audit Process Introduction

Water Loss Control - What Can Be Done