| Trending now: Water loss control reporting
AWWA Articles

Trending now: Water loss control reporting

By Ann Espinola

Two out of every three states in the United States are reviewing utility water loss reporting requirements in an effort to stem the loss of billions of gallons of water every year to leaks, theft, faulty meters, and inaccurate billing.

California and Georgia already require validated annual water audits, and about 30 other states mandate a degree of water loss reporting, some using AWWA’s M36 methodology and water audit software, according to a new AWWA white paper titled, “The State of Water Loss Control in Drinking Water Utilities.”

“’Doing nothing’ to reduce water loss is becoming a less viable option,” said Gary Trachtman, co-author of the paper and principal environmental engineer with Arcadis. “Regulatory and financial oversight entities are increasingly directing their attention to monitoring water loss performance. Also, better informed customers are expressing concern about what water service providers are doing to achieve these goals.”

Growing field

Water loss control programs picked up steam in recent years as droughts plagued parts of the United States. The online Water Loss Control Resource Community is by far the most popular among the Association’s 22 resource communities, garnering 20,126 page views last year -- nearly double the second busiest, the Lead Resource Community.

Part of the traffic is due to the Association’s Free Water Audit Software©, which has been downloaded about 10,000 times since the first version came out in 2006. The spreadsheet-based water audit tool helps utilities quantify water losses associated with water distribution systems and identify areas for improved efficiency and cost recovery.

No tool is perfectly tailored to each of the more than 50,000 utilities in North America, mainly because of differences between them, said Will Jernigan, an AWWA member who helped design the software. Some systems don’t meter all their customers, for example.

“However, the best practices for measurement and accountability are not highly variable,” said Jernigan, director of water efficiency for Cavanaugh.  “The software provides the industry standard format for best practices in water loss accounting, including the unique aspect of data validity grading to provide a ‘score’ to the overall reliability of the audit.”

The Data Validity Score, Jernigan said, “guides a utility where to focus to improve data reliability before expending resources to chase water loss in their system.”

All systems suffer losses. Though figures are difficult to quantify, some experts estimate leaking pipes across the United States lose more than 2 trillion gallons of water every year.

The white paper reports that an assessment of data from 246 water utilities found they collectively lost 130.1 billion gallons to leaks in one year, and another 29.4 billion gallons in non-leaks, such as errant billing and metering.

All told, these water losses cost those utilities nearly a quarter billion dollars.

Real and apparent lossest

Chris Leauber, chair of AWWA’s Water Loss Control Committee, said it is important to understand the value of both apparent and real losses, and that their value is water-system specific.

The 23-page white paper – a member benefit posted on the Association’s Water Loss Control Resource Community page – explains that non-revenue water includes real losses from leaks, as well as apparent losses, which cover inaccurate metering, theft, errant billing and accounting, and unbilled authorized consumption, such as firefighting.

Utilities should determine the nature of their breaks and leaks by carefully documenting the affected assets, repairs undertaken, and damages caused. Also important are tracking of average system pressure and costs to conduct leak detection work, better management of excessive pressure, and renewing water piping.

To control apparent losses, utilities can document meter-reading and billing errors by undertaking a billing system flow-charting process, according to the white paper. Advanced Metering Infrastructure can monitor customer water consumption and detect tampering and unusual water usage patterns.

“It is important to recognize water utilities must have strong accountability by compiling the annual water audit before they can assess their level of efficiency,” the paper notes. “It is simply not possible for a utility to know how efficient it is without first having reliable data from the water audit.”

Case studies

The paper also includes case studies of successful water loss control programs in Georgia, Halifax in Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Ala., and Wilson County, Tenn.

One of the reasons Halifax Water was highlighted is because it was the first water utility in North America to employ the water audit methodology now advocated by AWWA. It also uses progressive leakage control methods.

“Its distribution system is sectored into many District Metered Areas with supply flows monitored continuously and newly emerging leakage quickly detected and abated,” according to the white paper. “Advanced pressure management has been employed to the extent possible, and the system is upgraded at an appropriate rate.”

Its efforts have reduced leakage by more than 10MGD, worth $650,000 annually.

Halifax also focuses on apparent losses by installing commercial bulk watering stations and forbidding use of fire hydrants for retail supply purposes. This spring, the utility is launching installation of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure system that will be fully online in 2020.


“Adopting the water loss control methodology helped our utility drive performance with indicators to manage and measure outcomes,” said General Manager Carl Yates. “The benefits are real for the environment, our customers, and Halifax Water’s bottom line.”



States explore regs

A total of 33 states are reviewing their water loss control reporting requirements, and most are reconsidering failed percentage-based performance targets, according to a recent AWWA webinar titled, “Foundations in Water Loss: New Developments in Non-Revenue Water.”

The previous practice of calculating water loss as a percentage of total water supply doesn’t accurately track performance over time, said Trachtman, who spoke at the webinar and co-wrote the white paper with Stephen Davis of Metering Technology Consultants, and George Kunkel, Jr. of Kunkel Water Efficiency Consulting. It is highly sensitive to changes in customer consumption and was abandoned by AWWA in 2003.

“Now, here we are 14 years later, advances have been made in terms of providing tools and guidance for utilities to really get down in there and dig deep to find out where this water is going,” said Trachtman, “and to make judgments about the best ways to get those volumes down to what we call an economic level.”

The webinar featured a map showing the states now reviewing reporting requirements. Some states require rudimentary reporting, while others use M36 terminology and metrics, M36 software, or M36 software with metrics.

Seventeen states have no formal water loss reporting requirements.

In 2012, Georgia became the first state to embark on a statewide water audit training program following a requirement that utilities serving more than 3,300 people conduct water audits with Level 1 validation and implement improvements.

In 2015, California mandated that all urban utilities in the state conduct annual audits with Level 1 validation.

Last year, regulatory agencies in Indiana and Hawaii became the most recent to use the AWWA Water Audit Methodology. Similar legislation has been proposed in Colorado, but is currently on hold.

Jernigan said the water sector stands at an important crossroads regarding non-revenue water – maintaining the status quo of declining resources, crumbling infrastructure, and cash-strapped existence, or embarking on a future of efficiency.

“Utilities now have at their disposal all they need to launch a reliable water audit process,” Jernigan said.

Do you have a comment or story idea for Connections? Please contact Ann Espinola at aespinola@awwa.org or at 303-734-3454.