Utility Water Loss Control

Water utilities provide one of the greatest bargains of modern civilization: safe, available drinking water for household and commercial use at a cost to consumers of fractions of a penny per gallon. In the United States, thousands of community water utilities operate treatment and piping systems that process over 42 billion gallons of water withdrawn from water sources each day. Water utilities have historically focused on safe drinking water quality and continuous, on-demand supply, and they are heavily regulated by national governments to ensure this high quality service. Unfortunately, a similar focus has not been given to system efficiency in the water supply process, and it is believed that many water utilities suffer considerable losses from leakage and poor accounting.

With water resources being increasingly stressed due to climate change and growing populations, water utilities must become water-efficient throughout the entire supply process. By employing improved methods of water auditing and loss control, water utilities have the potential to reduce the large volumes of treated water that are lost to leakage, as well as to provide incentives to customers to optimize their water consumption. Water Loss Control is an increasingly important field of practice that is being heavily promoted within the drinking water utility industry.

In 2019, AWE released a supplement to its State Scorecard Project called "State-Level Water Loss Laws in the United States," which ranks the states based on their water loss control laws. For more information and to download the supplement, click here.

In 2019, AWE released "State-Level Water Loss Laws in the United States," a supplement to the 2017 publication "The Water Efficiency and Conservation State Scorecard: An Assessment of Laws." Using maps to display scores received for water loss control overall and for several high-priority topic areas, this supplement tells a compelling story about water loss success stories and opportunities.

Similar to financial audits conducted by accountants, the water audit compares volumes of water treated and pumped to volumes consumed by customers, and other uses such as firefighting and community uses. Estimated volumes of losses due to leakage and poor metering and accounting can be quantified in the water audit process. 

Water utilities and various water industry stakeholders are embracing the IWA/AWWA water audit methodology and many water utilities are now compiling a water audit on an annual basis. However, for many first-time auditors, the completeness and trust-worthiness of the available data is questionable. This condition speaks to the issue of data validity.

Water loss control includes utility efforts to manage leakage to economically low levels, and reducing metering and billing errors such that reliable measures of customer consumption are attained and sufficient revenue is garnered by the water utility. Utilities should adopt policies for non-revenue water and water loss control just as they adopt policies for purchasing, procurement, personnel, and other utility program areas. 

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.

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.