The Unified Voice of Oklahoma Cities and Towns
Drip GRIP: How to Conserve Water
When You're Losing It
Three percent of water on our planet is freshwater and only 1 percent is suitable for drinking, so it’s not difficult to see that water conservation is an important issue for the planet – and one that can save utilities and their customers money.
Conservation is good for the planet and your bottom line, but it’s not as easy as asking your customers to use less water, especially when your system is losing water because it’s aging and in poor repair.  An estimated 2.1 trillion gallons – or 6 billion gallons a day – are lost each year, and  240,000 water main breaks occur annually. 

Much of the country’s  one million miles of water lines are approaching the end of their usable lifespan.  More than  40 percent of water infrastructure is considered poor, very poor or elapsed, and  the American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently given the nation’s infrastructure  failing grades

Of  $200 billion needed to update aging infrastructure to meet regulatory requirements and quantity and quality concerns, approximately $97 billion, or 29 percent, will be needed for water loss control. The average loss is 16 percent through loss and theft, and 75 percent of that is recoverable.  

Losses can come from authorized, but unbilled consumption; unauthorized consumption, or theft; and data handling errors and metering inaccuracies. 

Theft 
Theft can do a lot of damage – for one, there is a cost associated with producing that water and when a utility doesn’t recoup the costs for stolen water, that cost must be spread out across those customers who are paying,  increasing their bills . Frequently, when businesses or contractors access water without authorization, they open a fire hydrant or tap into a sprinkler system – something that could  damage those life-saving systems . Of course, during a drought, when supplies are low,  water theft is especially egregious

Residential customers who are stealing water usually employ a meter jumper – a piece of pipe that replaces a meter that is removed between meter readings and replaced for the reading, resulting in artificially low billing. This can be prevented by locking meter housings or easily discovered by varying the schedule for meter readings.  Running a usage audit can show if a homeowner has a steep drop in gallons used. 

Loss
In fact, an audit of the entire system is a great opportunity to find places where water is being lost because of failing pipes. A data audit can look to compare authorized and unbilled consumption, billed consumption and unauthorized and unbilled consumption. 

Non-revenue losses, including real losses from leaking pipes, apparent losses from billing and meter errors and both authorized and unauthorized, unmetered use, can stack up. Leaks can cause damage to other infrastructure, such as roadways and sewers, and even to customers’ homes, while large breaks can be costly both in cash and good will. 

An  American Water Works Association assessment of 246 utilities’ water audits found a collective apparent loss of more than 29 billion gallons at a cost of $151 million. At the same time, real losses because of leaks was more than 130 billion gallons.

A water audit, including physical inspections, flow analysis and leak detection tools such as sonic leak detectors and visual inspections, will help determine where these real losses are most likely originating from and which ones are in greatest need of repair through pipeline and asset management. Pipeline management is a plan for maintaining, repairing and replacing old pipes and installing new ones based on condition and demand. 

The AWWA also notes that the great majority of hidden leaks are found in customer service lines – and they are not repaired in a timely or efficient manner.

Conservation
When you’ve done all you can to shrink loss and theft, water conservation is another way to reduce costs.  Conservation isn’t just for customers – it’s up to community leaders to show the way. Use of low-flow fixtures, WaterSense-rated appliances, aerators and native plants in your home and yard is a great way to show that you take conservation seriously.

Engage with the public and find champions – like-minded people who will help spread the message and provide them with resources to share with family and friends. Educate customers about the cost savings to them and simple, entry-level conservation habits they can adopt before challenging them to think bigger. You may want to choose monthly educational focuses by sharing information in newsletters, holding workshops or providing volunteer work crews to help with installing low-flow fixtures and aerators. 

In Belen, Costa Rica, for example  utilities have seen success in encouraging conservation by using social norms and noting the difference between customers’ water bills and those of their neighbors with a smiley face if consumption was less and a frowny face if it was more.  Smart billing also can show customers their consumption, including when they use the most and least amount of water and how much money they save with conservation measures and efficient appliances and fixtures. Some utilities have seen success by including  conservation planning worksheets with bills.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, partners with municipalities and utilities to provide service line repair plans to homeowners. Customers with a repair plan are more likely to have a leak fixed more quickly, thereby wasting less water. Through this program, a customer simply makes one phone call to our toll free number 24/7/376 to have a local, insured and licensed plumber promptly dispatched. For more information, please visit www.utilitysp.net .