Water Loss Control in the Great Lakes Region

Water utilities are stewards of public and environmental health by sustainably supplying drinking water. In the United States, drinking water infrastructure is remarkable in its coverage and reliability. However, much of the nation’s essential water infrastructure was installed fifty to one hundred years ago and is now deteriorating faster than rehabilitation efforts can combat. This deterioration inevitably means an increase in leaks and water loss across a distribution system.

This challenge necessitates that water managers embrace tools to reduce leaks and improve supply-side efficiency, the distribution of water with minimal volumes of water lost to leakage Many water distribution systems have accumulated significant inefficiencies that negatively impact customers. Typically, water distribution systems lose between 5% and 25% of the treated water they supply to leakage. To counteract these leakage losses, utilities must produce additional water and often increase customer rates. Additionally, most utilities have not studied their distribution efficiency and so do not appreciate the volumes of water they lose continually and pervasively to leakage.

Fortunately, water loss can be measured and managed through water loss audits. Water auditing has been established as a standardized best practice by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and new methods have been adopted that can assist with accurate assessments of water losses. With support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Alliance for Water Efficiency and Water Systems Optimization were able to work with two case study utilities in the Great Lakes Region to perform water loss audits for their systems. The audits were performed using the AWWA’s free Water Audit Software, an Excel based tool. Once the audits were complete, a leakage profile was developed for each utility using the Water Research Foundation’s free Real Loss Component Analysis Tool to determine what areas of the system need prioritized attention. Using these tools, a leakage breakdown was developed for each of the participating utilities.

Utilities usually concentrate on recording “reported” leakage, or main breaks that come to the surface and are then repaired immediately. Notably, the case studies showed that this reported leakage percentage was very small: most of the leakage found in the audit was hidden losses that were leaking without anyone knowing, thereby providing evidence of how beneficial a thorough system audit can be.


Each of the participating utilities was involved throughout the process and ultimately received a final assessment report and a debriefing opportunity to ask questions about the results.  The reports covered a number of findings such as water losses in both monetary terms and gallons per connection per day, an Infrastructure Leakage Index score, a data validity score, and recommendations for improvement going forward.

To further promote this important work, a workshop was developed to provide more detailed and hands-on training for utility staff.  Both tools were walked through, and emphasis was placed on terminology, methodology, and the importance of data validation.  The workshop was held in-person and on-line simultaneously, with participants from the Great Lakes Region, the greater United States, Canada and Mexico.  The workshop has been made available as a four-part series on the AWE YouTube Channel (@A4WE).

Part I: Welcome, Water Audits, Water Loss, Non-Revenue Water, Water Balance

Part II: Performance Indicators, Data Validity Grading, Component Analysis of Real Losses

Part III: Intervening Against Water Losses and Regional Case Studies: Madison and Ann Arbor

Part IV: The Bigger Picture: Lead Service Lines, Water Loss Control from the Regulator’s Perspective, Policy and Regulatory Issues

Also available on the AWE YouTube Channel is the recent webinar Turning Water Loss into Revenue: The Emerging Field of Water Audit Validation.

In addition, AWE has developed this list of the Top 10 Reasons Utilities Resist Looking for Non-Revenue Water

To learn more about Water Loss Control Basics click here.

Click here for AWE's Policy Statement, Managing Water Loss and Recovering Revenue: A Water Loss or Non-Revenue Water Policy Template for Local Adoption.