Water Utility Accountability and Efficiency

Running a water utility is a complex operation. Water utilities withdraw water from a reliable source such as a river or stream, or groundwater wells. They treat the water to federal water quality standards and pump the water into extensive underground piping systems (called water distribution systems) which provide safe water directly to homes, businesses and fire hydrants. Along the way water must be tested numerous times to ensure that it is safe to drink. Ideally, water utilities should also provide metering devices at multiple locations along the supply path (the water source, treatment plant and customer endpoint) but the actual extent of metering varies from system-to-system due to inconsistent regulations and enforcement.  

Measuring supply volumes and consumption via metering gives utilities the base data to “audit” their supply on a daily, monthly or annual basis. This helps manage the supply and also indicates to the manager how much water is lost to leakage or poor accounting. The water audit process is the foundation for accountability in the water utility. While it is possible for a water utility to be accountable in its structures, but not very efficient in its operations, it is unlikely that a water utility can be efficient if it is not accountable. In order to achieve efficient operations in the water utility sector, the industry must be accountable by employing sound, reliable water auditing as a routine business practice, and efficient by practicing effective water loss control.

A number of states have policies and mandatory legal requirements for utility reporting on distribution system water loss auditing and reducing leakage through effective water loss control programs. The Alliance for Water Efficiency has prepared an analysis of these policies and mandatory requirements, Water Efficiency and Conservation State Scorecard: An Assessment of Laws, published in 2017.